Hempstead board rescinds vote at hurried meeting

June 23, 2014

The Hempstead school board last night unanimously rescinded its vote for an investigation of Superintendent Susan Johnson's professional conduct, though residents and activists loudly questioned the legality of both the board's meeting and its action.

Board members, after meeting in executive session for more than two hours, voted 5-0 against conducting the so-called Part 83 investigation.

As with Thursday's raucous public meeting in the Hempstead High School auditorium, the meeting brought an eruption of recriminations and charges of illegality from residents and local activists.

Hempstead attorney Frederick K. Brewington -- who has appealed the May 20 school board election to the state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., alleging voter fraud -- questioned the validity of Monday's meeting, saying proper notice was not given and accusing the board of acting "under cover of darkness." After the meeting, Brewington said the school board "committed a farce last Thursday and this evening what they committed was a fraud, and they need to be ashamed of themselves."

Later, school board candidate Maribel Touré, who lost a disputed contest with board president Betty Cross in the May election and is represented by Brewington in her appeal of the vote, spoke with reporters as she pleaded with King to intervene.

"Please, Dr. King, look at the news, look at what we are suffering in Hempstead. It's time for you to take action. The time is now," Touré said.

A Part 83 investigation falls under the authority of the state education commissioner. Board member Shelley Brazley proposed the probe at the Thursday meeting, expressing concern about proposed teacher layoffs and the shadow cast over the district by a grade-changing scandal, among other issues.

At that time, the investigation was approved in a 3-2 vote, with board president Betty Cross and first vice president JoAnn Simmons in the minority. At its hastily called special meeting last night, the board held a lengthy executive session while residents, members of local activist groups and reporters waited in the hallway outside the board room on the second floor of the high school.

The vote regarding the Part 83 investigation was in the midst of being taken as members of the public were allowed to enter the small room.

When Cross was asked by a reporter the subject of the board's 5-0 vote, she said to ask the board secretary. Finally, a school district attorney, Austin Graff, read the resolution rescinding the board's vote last week on the Part 83 investigation of the superintendent.

That prompted much shouting among the public, many of whom wanted to know why they weren't let in earlier to hear what was being voted on.

Johnson and high school Principal Reginald Stroughn -- who has said he cannot vouch for the grades of seniors -- left the private session before members of the public were allowed in. Neither would comment.