The Hempstead Union Free School District, amid an influx of undocumented minors arriving from Mexico and Central America, failed to properly enroll immigrant students and place them at the beginning of the school year, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report, based on two visits to the district by the New York State Education Department’s Office of Bilingual Education and Foreign Language Studies, found that enrollment staff was not properly trained to review foreign transcripts and provide credits to new students from other countries, and discovered that the “vast majority” of new Hempstead High School students were placed in the 9th Grade regardless of the content on their transcript and how many years of schooling they previously completed.
The review also revealed that at least 17 new students were enrolled in the high school at the beginning of the school year but were not given schedules until a so-called “transition school,” or “Annex” opened Oct. 22. The school district has until Dec. 3 to address the state’s findings.
Along with the state’s report, Nassau BOCES, at the request of State Education Department Commissioner John King Jr., released its own review, detailing how five of eight students received continuous education in their home country but were still classified as “Students with Interrupted Formal Education” (SIFE). Also, six of eight students interviewed said they did not receive bilingual evaluations “within the regulatory time period.”
King directed Nassau BOCES to conduct an investigation after it was reported that at least 34 immigrant youths weren’t provided an education due to what the district said was overcrowded classrooms. In late October, the DOE, New York State Attorney General’s office and Board of Regents announced a joint review of school districts’ enrollment policies regarding undocumented students and unaccompanied minors.
The district told Nassau BOCES investigators that since June 30, enrollment increased by approximately 1,100; more than 330 students were considered unaccompanied minors.
Additionally, the state’s review reported contradictory statements from high school staffers. According to the report, some staff members said that after the high school reached capacity one or two weeks after the school year began, new students were not allowed to enroll due to “public health and overcrowding concerns.” Other staffers told investigators that students not identified as SIFE were indeed enrolled.
The opening of the transition school also added to the confusion, according to the state’s report, which found a “lack of communication” between high school and the newly opened transition school’s staff.
“The High School was not notified when students were pulled out and placed in the Annex, and High School students themselves did not get prior notice before being removed from classes and placed in the Annex,” the report states. “Some of these students were sent back to the High School later in the day due to programming error.”
It continues: “Annex staff apparently did not know which students to expect and were overwhelmed with the volume of new students.”
At least 17 students enrolled in the high school at the beginning of the school year weren’t provided with class schedules until the transition school opened, according to the report.
“Many of these students reported to school daily during the seven weeks that they were enrolled but didn’t have access to instruction, and were told to go home,” the report states.
Enrollment at the Annex was not the only issue.
The report says that classroom lessons weren’t tailored to students’ English proficiency and grade level.
In one instance, state investigators observed a 9th grade ESL class “where students were reviewing the alphabet by cutting out letters.” The report goes on to note that “students appeared insulted at the level of instruction material.”
Jason Starr, Director of the New York City Civil Liberties Union’s Nassau County chapter, acknowledged that school officials are faced with an influx of minors, but that still isn’t an excuse to “erect barriers” to education.
“You want to make sure you have students who have the ability to do grade-level rich content in all of the subject areas,” Starr said. “You want them to be placed properly so they don’t miss out on that content just because they might have limited English proficiency.”
“These are practices that are prescribed by state law,” he added, “and its absolutely essential that this happens for all students, but particularly students who might have immigrated from a different country.”
Among the state report’s other findings:
English Language Learner (ELL) students did not have equal access to extracurricular activities and sports;
the district required students to produce an original birth certificate for registration;
the district failed to provide “adequate information” to ELL students and their parents about educational rights and programming.
To manage the influx of students, the district told Nassau BOCES it hired additional teaching staff and a bilingual coordinator. Additional staff cost the district $2 million. The spending was not previously budgeted for the 2014-15 school year.
The district’s publicist did not return a call for comment.