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Second day of back-to-school, with clouded outlook in Hempstead

First day of school at Hempstead High School

First day of school at Hempstead High School on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

More than 300,000 students poured onto the campuses of 78 school districts across Long Island Wednesday for the first day of classes -- the oldest kids arriving side-by-side with their peers while the youngest were hand-in-hand with their parents.

Among those opening were the Hempstead schools, though amid turmoil in the district's leadership.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. last week ordered the district to hold a special election to fill a vacated school board seat. King had earlier tossed incumbent Betty Cross, a longtime board president, from her post as he looked into allegations of fraud in the May 20 vote.

The district has scheduled a special meeting Monday at the high school to pick a date for the new election, officials said.

The Nassau County district attorney's office also is investigating the May vote and was in constant contact with King as he worked toward a decision, said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the office.

While many parents and activists have expressed frustration with the district attorney's office for not bringing charges in the case, Tarek said the investigation must run its course.

"Our investigation. . . is wider than this election and is ongoing," he said. "It would be premature at this stage to say what may happen."

The students walking to Hempstead High School Wednesday were unfazed by such problems.

Yoselin Montes, 17, said her teachers are devoted to their craft and that students who have a hard time at the school aren't behaving appropriately -- they don't listen and are disrespectful, she said.

But not Montes, in the 11th grade. She plans to attend Nassau Community College before transferring, perhaps to St. John's University. She said she works hard to maintain solid grades, mostly B's, and that she wants to study psychology.

"I'm doing what I need to do," she said.

Montes was unaware that the high school has an interim principal in Johnetta Hill; the district is looking for a permanent replacement for Reginald Stroughn, who left at the end of June, officials said.

Lidia Claudio, 16, standing with Montes across the street from the school, said the students who are struggling at the district are living only for the moment.

"They worry about now, not the future," said Claudio, also in 11th grade. "We're on top of our academics."

Claudio, who said she earns mostly B's, hopes to attend Stony Brook University and wants to one day become a surgeon.

Nicholas Applewhaite, 15 and in the 10th grade at Hempstead High, said the district affords all students a solid education -- if they don't skip class.

"If you listen to the teachers, they will do whatever they need to do to help you pass," he said as he walked to campus.

Though Applewhaite spoke highly of the staff, he's concerned about the fights that break out among students on campus, saying he hopes this year is better than last. His father, who has the same name, is also wary of school violence.

"I'm worried about some of the kids," the father said. "Some want to go to school just to make trouble."

Denise Williams, 49, came to Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School Wednesday morning to drop off her daughter, Dezair, 11.

The child, entering the sixth grade, was nervous about the new school year.

Her mother hopes to be a regular presence at the middle school to help ease her daughter's nerves and to witness firsthand the quality of instruction there.

"I want to be a volunteer to be with her," she said.

Schools in another 12 districts will open Thursday. The Bridgehampton district opens Monday.

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