Activists involved in the accommodation of Central American immigrants are blasting a Long Island, New York high school for not being more malleable with regard to the education of unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors.
The school district of Hempstead, in which Latinos comprise 60% of Hempstead’s population, has been forced to accommodate between 700 and 1100 extra students as a result of the recent flood of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border. Elias Mestizo, president of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association, said the estimate from teachers was much lower.
Diane Goins, New York Communities for Change Long Island Chapter President, blasted the school, saying, “Now you know. This is the kind of thing they’re doing to the children. I don’t care who these children are or where they come from. They’re supposed to get an education. That’s the law and now they’ve broken the law.”
Mestizo said that at the end of the last school year, teachers realized the situation was growing dire and asked to split classes, but instead the district changed the number of periods held in a school day. That meant more students in each class; Mestizo claimed that there was a time this year when classes of 50 students occurred.
Advocates for the students claim that between 35 and 70 of the minors who enrolled in Hempstead High School have received no instruction this year. The advocates say the teenagers go to school, but haven’t gotten schedules. On Wednesday, those students were scheduled to go to school at a satellite school on the second floor of a converted former bus terminal.
Lucas Sanchez, Long Island Coordinator of New York Communities for Change, complained, “There’s no plan [yet] for how they’re going to make up the instruction time that every other kid in the nation has received and they haven’t. They’re still on summer vacation and it’s October.”
On Oct. 23, the Nassau County Board of Cooperative Educational Services will finish its investigation and send the results to the New York State Education Commissioner.
There is a divide between the community and the school. Jason Starr, the Nassau County Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said:
There is a tough relationship between the community and the leadership of the school … (the students’ situation) doesn’t make the community feel like they can trust leadership now, and the district is obviously going to feel targeted … Many of the students have difficulty even communicating with school personnel. A lot of parents felt like there weren’t sufficient teachers or staff members who could communicate with students who only spoke Spanish and parents who only spoke Spanish. The parents have a right to engage in the language they are comfortable with. They felt locked out, as though there was no one at the district or school level who could adequately communicate with them.
Mestizo added, “What I am seeing is that some people are using the immigration issue as a lightning rod to bring more division to our community.”
George Siberon, executive director of the Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association, echoed, “What we don’t want is a schism between two communities fighting for limited resources. We’re all in this together.”
Only three counties in the U.S. have higher percentages of Central Americans than Long Island’s Nassau or Suffolk counties: Los Angeles; Fairfax, Virginia; and Harris County, Texas.
Hempstead High School has had a negative reputation for decades; less than half of its seniors graduated. The district currently has one of the lowest graduation rates on Long Island; less than 10% of students K-8 have been meeting proficiency standards in English and math.
Former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi initiated an audit of the school years ago which prompted an indictment of a Hempstead school board member for accepting bribes, a list of funds spent inappropriately from a contractor, and shortages of English instruction.
Activists are hoping that the fact that a Latina is running for the school board will trigger changes.