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Rally over school officials' treatment of Latinos

Hempstead parents and members of New York Communities

Hempstead parents and members of New York Communities for Change demand better treatment of Latinos and parents of all backgrounds during a rally against the Hempstead School Board outside Hempstead High School. (Aug. 20, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

About 20 community activists and residents rallied outside Hempstead High School Tuesday to denounce alleged mistreatment of Latinos and parents by the board of education and school district staff.

Critics from New York Communities for Change and the Workplace Project said the district offers no translators at board meetings, that board president Betty Cross denies concerned citizens the right to speak at board meetings, that the board needs a Latino trustee and that some residents have been verbally abused by staffers.

School district representatives denied most of the charges at their own news conference, which followed immediately.

Village resident Simeon Yanes said the district's parent liaison, Tina Lake, made derogatory comments to him and another Latino during a rally in June outside the high school, where protesters called for the state Education Department to investigate the board and the district.

"She called us drunks and vagabonds," Yanes, 55, said in Spanish. He has a grandchild in a district elementary school.

Pedro de Jesus Diaz, 55, of Hempstead, said he heard Lake make the comment. "It's not fair for one lady in the high school would treat us like this," he said.

Lake, who is president of the high school's Parent Teacher Student Association, adamantly denied the claims.

"He must be talking about a different Tina," Lake said. "Clearly, I have a good rapport with the Latino community and the Afro-American community."

After complaints from protesters, district spokesman Todd Shapiro said there would be translators at future board meetings.

"It has been done in the past, but not at every school board meeting," said Shapiro, adding the district already provides key documents to parents in English and Spanish.

Village resident Diane Goins complained the board refuses to address questions from nonresidents and asks residents to write down their queries, but applauded the decision to provide translators. "It is a wonderful thing and I hope they do it," Goins said. "I just hope that they also let us speak at board meetings."

Shapiro said district policy is to let only district residents speak at meetings.

Protesters reiterated last week's request from a coalition of community leaders and residents calling for a Hispanic trustee, citing the district's nearly 60 percent Hispanic student population and a recent vacancy as a chance to improve diversity.

The board will seek the "best qualified candidate" to fill the vacant seat, said Shapiro, adding former middle school dean Kelvin Ortiz was hired recently as a high school assistant principal to help meet the Latino community's need.

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