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Hempstead schools pick new candidate for enrollment ombudsman post

From left, Hempstead school district attorney Monte Malik

From left, Hempstead school district attorney Monte Malik Chandler, Hempstead School board members Shelly Brazley, Lamont Johnson, JoAnn Simmons, Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel Toure announce they want a new election held at an emergency school board meeting at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school board has voted to accept a new candidate to serve as enrollment ombudsman after the state attorney general's office rejected its initial choice.

Robert Rodriguez will fill the post this month, though trustees last month chose Khalid Lateef for the job.

Lateef's appointment was contingent upon the approval of the state attorney general's office. A spokeswoman there would not say why he was rejected.

School officials said when they chose Lateef that he had done a similar job for the Uniondale district and that he was the most qualified candidate.

The ombudsman will be responsible for administering the district's enrollment process, ensuring it is in compliance with state and federal laws, and communicating with students, parents and staff on the issue.

Rodriguez will be paid $125,000 prorated, school administrators said. Board president Lamont Johnson said he will be glad to see someone fill the post so that the district "can be in compliance" with a settlement with the attorney general's office.

Rodriguez was director of human resources for the Peekskill City school district until March 2011. A resident of Lake Mohegan, he also is a minister who has had a long relationship with the Fort Washington Collegiate Church on West 181st Street in Manhattan, and was selected in October 2013 as its pastor.

Rodriguez did not return calls for comment.

Board member Maribel Toure said she wants an ombudsman who is "honest, can oversee the whole department, the whole process of education, and who understands and knows the rules."

She said the candidate should have excellent organizational skills and a strong desire to make a difference at the district.

Hempstead agreed to hire an enrollment ombudsman and an independent monitor as part of a settlement with the attorney general's office, which found the district made it unnecessarily difficult for some immigrant students to gain entrance.

The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity will help Hempstead monitor the district's progress in removing enrollment barriers. The attorney general's office already has approved of the group's selection.

Hempstead came under state scrutiny in the fall after it failed to enroll 33 unaccompanied minors at the start of the school year. The children -- many of whom were from Central America and arrived here illegally last summer -- were turned away for weeks, some placed on wait lists.

Administrators said they were overwhelmed by the new arrivals and had run out of both space and teachers for the children. They said more than 1,500 new students came to the district in just a few months and that roughly 1,000 of them needed English language services.

The attorney general's office, after learning of the enrollment delays, conducted an extensive study of the district's admissions policies starting in late 2014.

They found numerous problems and called for an overhaul of its enrollment procedures. It found Hempstead had an overly restrictive policy on immunizations that ran counter to state guidelines and that it failed to keep open its enrollment office during times advertised to the public.

State law mandates that all people between the ages of 5 and 21 are entitled to an education in the community where they reside.

Federal law prohibits schools from denying a child's enrollment based on immigration status.

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