Speaking for a group of local residents, Santo Cipolla is asking the Sewanhaka Central High School District to revisit a 28-year-old policy that allows one community to attend any of the five district high schools, including Floral Park Memorial High School.
“It was a policy that was created to desegregate South Floral Park and a portion of Floral Park called Jamaica Square,” Cipolla said at a school board meeting last week. “It is our belief that there is not equal access to the schools and violates the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Students from the Village of South Floral Park entering seventh grade or who are attending the district for the first time have a one-time choice among New Hyde Park, Sewanhaka, Floral Park, H. Frank Carey and Elmont Memorial high schools, according to a school board policy, “Students 5110.”
However, students that live in other district communities cannot choose any school. Families zoned for one of the four elementary school districts (New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, Elmont, Franklin Square and Floral Park-Bellerose) and live outside of South Floral Park need to attend the aligned high school.
“ came about as a result of a civil rights audit that was done of the district,” School Board President Dave Fowler said in a phone interview. “At that time, the district entered into an agreement with the state education department, whereby among other things, this particular policy was established for students to elect to attend other schools.”
Parents can appeal the school their child is slated to attend, according to Fowler. He said, “they have a right to appeal, but as far as the board policy, I’m not in favor of changing it at this point.”
“My understanding is that [Cipolla] and a number of parents, more so than usual, parents are requesting that their child go to the school other than the school they are zoned for,” Fowler said.
A small portion of New Hyde Park is zoned for the Elmont School District, which is connected to Sewanhaka, where residents would need to send their children based on the school map.
“If you look at the numbers, the demographics don’t change,” Cipolla, a 30-year litigation paralegal and resident of New Hyde Park, said. He has two kids, one of which attended Sewanhaka for one year before going to the Sacred Heart Academy. His second is slated to attend Sewanhaka in September.
“[The numbers] may go up or down 1 percent, but it’s the same for all the schools. Does the board consider their schools desegregated? Once the numbers are in balance, there is no need to have “Students 5110” anymore.”
Twenty-two South Floral Park residents attended New Hyde Park Memorial last year, while 86 students from New Hyde Park were required to attend Sewanhaka, according to documents obtained by the Floral Park Dispatch.
“We pay a higher proportion of school taxes and we live in New Hyde Park,” Cipolla said. “The residents pay for South Floral Park residents to go to New Hyde Park. It’s very generous of us. We’d prefer our children to have a choice.”
Further transfers are permitted only due to “special circumstances as recommended by a district social worker, through the Committee on Special Education or through options available for a particular program,” 5110 says.
“We as New Hyde Park residents do not have access to either New Hyde Park or Floral Park Memorial let alone H. Frank Carey,” Cipolla said.