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Police stationed at Hempstead High after melee

Hempstead High School student Jae'Vaughn Riddick, 17, talks

Hempstead High School student Jae'Vaughn Riddick, 17, talks about the large fight that happened Monday. (March 10, 2010) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Police arrested five people in connection with the Monday lunchtime melee that injured eight students at Hempstead High School, officials said Tuesday.

Four of them, aged 16 or older, were in the county jail in Mineola in connection with the fight, according to Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a Nassau County police spokesman. He said the charges had not yet been determined and an investigation is continuing.

Hempstead Village Lt. Joseph Sortino said those in custody are students and that a younger student being held at the armory also will be charged. Police did not release the names of those in custody.

Several students returning to the high school Tuesday said race issues had precipitated the Monday incident, which led to early dismissal.

One student described the school as "segregated," with Hispanics often sitting on one side of the cafeteria, blacks on the other and multicultural students in the middle. Others said Hispanic students often are called "papis" and "immigrants," while black students are taunted frequently with the N-word.

But one 10th-grader who said she initially thought the altercation was racially motivated was not so sure Tuesday.

"There was a lot of black-on-black fighting, too," she said.

One school board member dismissed the notion of racial tension. "Every time somebody of a different nature gets into a fight doesn't mean it's race," board member Betty Cross said outside the high school. "They just had a differing of opinions. Our kids get along well here."

Students who returned to classes Tuesday were met by extra security. Some said they had to remove belts and shoes before entering the school.

As an added measure of security, Hempstead Village police had 10 officers spread around the high school, Sortino said. Two others in a marked police car were parked outside the front gate of the school.

The cause of Monday's free-for-all remained unclear.

Cross blamed school management but would not elaborate, saying she could not discuss personnel matters. "Somebody in management dropped the ball here, that's just the bottom line," she said. "We have to deal with someone."

Cross said she met Monday night with school officials, members of the community and parents. "We are going to save Hempstead school district."

She added that the eight students injured Monday were in "pretty good" shape.

Sortino said the school day ended with no incidents.

With John Valenti, Laura Rivera and Sophia Chang

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