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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Dobie: Flier inflames racial tension in Hempstead school board race

Flyer circulating around Hempstead.

Flyer circulating around Hempstead. Photo Credit: Handout

The influx of hundreds of new students, mostly Hispanic, into the Hempstead school district was bound to be a campaign issue in the special election school board race between Betty Cross and Maribel Touré. But Cross’ campaign is using the crisis in the most divisive way, explicitly setting blacks against Latinos in a district where racial tensions have been difficult for years.

A flier being circulated on behalf of Cross reads bluntly, “Don’t let English become a second language in Hempstead. ”

The flier further plays an ugly race card by claiming, “Hempstead has had a sudden influx of 1,558 students since the Crisis at the Border and it’s like we let them in — Enough is Enough!!!”

Cross — a longtime fixture on the board — has been, at best, indifferent to Latino students and parents and their concerns. In her tenure, Latinos have surpassed blacks as the majority of students in the troubled district.

Cross was forced to step down in July by state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. after allegations of voter fraud and voter intimidation by Cross and her supporters in May’s regular election. Cross seemed to have been defeated by Touré on election night until the counting of controversial absentee ballots gave Cross a six-vote victory. Newsday endorsed Touré then and now. The special election is Tuesday.

The campaign flier begins with the absurd claim that “one school board candidate insists that every Hempstead school district employee must speak Spanish as a condition of their employment.” That is false. And it goes on to tell employees that their jobs are at stake in this election. That is also false.

Touré has long said that Hempstead’s school board needs to be more open to input from all community members, including Latinos.

Cross has been at the center of Hempstead’s problems for years, and her disregard for the district’s growing Latino community has been part of that. The only virtue of the flier is that it so clearly unmasks her feelings.

Now it’s up to the community to make sure she has no chance to return to the school board and no chance to continue to let those feelings influence decisions and policies.

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