By Alexis Friedman
Members of the Hempstead Board of Education recently discussed past issues with overcrowding in the schools caused by a sudden influx of students and the current state of affairs, with fears of overpopulation in the district rising again.
Hempstead faced overcrowding seven years ago when hundreds of students poured into the district, many of them immigrants from Central America and Mexico. The current number has not reached that level, but it is rising fast, causing confusion about the exact number of students who are enrolled in the schools.
“Every single day our enrollment is growing,” Superintendent Regina Armstrong shared with the Hempstead board at a Sept. 14 special meeting.
“People have to return back to work, and we are going to see a surge of student enrollment,” Trustee Randy Stith told the board. “We already anticipate an increase due to the Afghan refugees and still those coming from Central America.”
The biggest concern is overcrowding, which Hempstead School Board President Olga Brown-Young said she saw firsthand. Armstrong said officials at each school had to sort through rosters to ascertain which students were attending classes.
In 2014, the Hempstead district had a major issue with overcrowding in classrooms because many unaccompanied immigrant students took up residence to further their education locally.
So far, enrollment is not reaching the heights that Armstrong said she anticipated, possibly because New York City schools had publicized the return of in-person classes early in the school year on cable TV and elsewhere, potentially attracting many students to the city.
Stith reminded the board of the similar situation that the district faced from 2014 to 2016, when “we had planned for a certain amount of students, [and] a week into school we had to reuse the portable” classrooms because of overcrowding.
In 2016, The Atlantic reported, “The New York State Attorney General’s Office is watching Hempstead, Long Island…The school district’s total enrollment stands at not quite 8,000 children, and according to a district spokesman, the district enrolled more than 1,000 of those students between July 2015 and May 2016 — and that’s on top of the nearly 1,500 new students who enrolled the previous school year.”
Public Radio International’s show “The World” published a piece in 2015 highlighting the Hempstead district’s influx of students, which pushed the district to add “classrooms” in “converted office spaces, upstairs in an old bus terminal building that also holds a Dunkin’ Donuts, empty storefronts and a gold jewelry exchange.”
To prevent overcrowding and the return to temporary classrooms, the board determined that the district must update its process of sifting through the rosters and cleaning them up, removing students who do not reside in the district and are not showing up to class.