Community Advocates, Parents Ask Why One District Is Forced To Handle So Many

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — In response to classroom overcrowding this fall, the Hempstead School District is opening a new transitional school for immigrant children.

The school, which will open Wednesday, will educate recent immigrants, many who fled violence and poverty in Central America, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported Tuesday.

The school will be housed downtown in a renovated former bus terminal, across the street from the Nassau County Criminal Courthouse.

About 1,200 new students are enrolled in the system this year, and nearly three dozen others were allegedly turned away. CBS 2 was the first to report  on astounding overcrowding — 65 students in a class — and scheduling chaos at the start of the school year.

“The school district was telling the kids there was no space for them, no teachers for them and telling them they should sign in and go home,” Lucas Sanchez, of the group New York Communities for Change, told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

Superintendent Susan Johnson denied students were turned away, but admitted the district is overwhelmed with an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children. She said a little more than one-third of the new students are homeless.

“We’ve got Garden City, West Hempstead, other communities around, why do they want to dump everything on Hempstead?” wondered community advocate Rev. Dorothy LaPierre.

Fed up residents want to know why Hempstead has to absorb so many newcomers without increased state or federal aid.

“This situation is segregation. It is prejudicial and preferential,” said community advocate Rev. Cornelius Watson.

“I think it had to have been poor planning,” parent Dennis Jones added.

Another parent was worried about the quality of education students will  get in the transitional school, in a district already plagued by a 35 percent graduation rate.

“We have to educate the children by law and that’s what we are doing to the best of our ability,” Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson said.

One educator, who asked to remain anonymous, called the transitional school a good temporary solution.

“Everybody can be a winner — neighborhoods, families, children,” the educator told Xirinachs.

It may not be an ideal situation, one mother said, but it’s an improvement.

“They have to have a place for children, and children have to learn,” she said. “So what else could you do? The schools are overcrowded.”

Immigrant advocates said they will monitor the school to ensure students are being properly educated.

District officials were unable to say how long the building will serve as a transitional school.

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