Michael Jaime is under fire for reportedly using a school bus for a trip into Manhattan without any communication or proper paperwork. And parents are demanding answers.
Jaime, the board president of Elmont’s elementary school district and the Sewanhaka Central High School District, reportedly used a school bus to take himself, a Roosevelt school district student and the mother of Anael Alston — the assistant commissioner for the state’s Office of Access, Equity and Community Engagement — to the Javits Center last November. The Obama Foundation was holding its first-ever Democracy Forum there, and Alston was scheduled as a guest speaker.
Alston oversees and manages the state’s My Brother’s Keeper program, which the Elmont school district implemented in 2021.
The forum is a unique opportunity for anyone given a chance to attend — but confusion remains as to why school district resources were used when Elmont and Sewanhaka students were denied the experience.
Jaime has made no secret that he made the trip on the Elmont bus, initially planning to reimburse the Sewanhaka high school district — which oversees Elmont — for the cost. But at a recent board meeting, school attorney Candace Gomez advised Jaime not to reimburse Sewanhaka, and instead for Sewanhaka to reimburse Elmont.
Gomez added that Elmont elementary Superintendent Kenneth Rosner and Sewanhaka Superintendent James Grossane mutually agreed to this plan, because this is normally how shared transportation services are handled.
“Since this was a high school district trip, it’s my understanding that they will be invoiced in June, which is the typical time frame, and then thereafter paid in August or September, by the high school district,” Gomez said at the meeting. “It’s typical for Elmont and the high school district to share buses.”
Yet that appears to have only created more confusion for some community member keeping a close watch on these developments. They remain frustrated the repayment was not addressed earlier, and they continue to call for more accountability.
“I still don’t understand how a president of the board can abuse his authority by doing something and you just chuck it under the carpet like it didn’t happen,” Sheldon Meikle, a former board member, told his former colleagues at a recent meeting. “This is a problem.”
According to testimony from past school board meetings, neither Grossane nor Elmont Memorial High School Principal Kevin Dougherty were aware of the bus trip. Grossane said he never approved the expenditure.
Furthermore, no Elmont or Sewanhaka members of the school district’s My Brother’s Keeper program, known as fellows, were on the bus.
At a meeting last December, Jaime said that Grossane, Uniondale school district Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil and Roosevelt district Superintendent Deborah Wortham were given instructions on how to properly register fellows from each school. Each superintendent was responsible for communicating with their building principal to make sure all information was processed and confirmation was received.
“Dr. Grossane did admit, in terms of the Sewanhaka Central High School District, that he and his team dropped the ball,” Jaime said. “It was my understanding that all of the fellows would be attending.”
The school district received notice of the event over the summer, but communication with the event organizers had dissipated.
Numerous security requirements — such as vaccination status — needed to be checked off because former President Barack Obama was scheduled to attend.
Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper program in 2014 to address the consistent opportunity gaps boys and young men of color face in the United States, with the hope of ensuring that all young people can reach their full potential.
With no knowledge of the requirements and limited time to gather all the necessary documentation, the district could not follow through on the opportunity, Grossane said.
“We didn’t get back that information for our kids for them to go, so we have expressed our displeasure as a district with the group in Albany,” the superintendent said. “We were very sad that our kids weren’t able to go.”
Rachelle Lewis, a parent of a My Brother’s Keeper fellow, said she was the first to bring the matter to the public’s attention. Her son, Terrell, is one of two fellows at Elmont Memorial High — and one of four in the Sewanhaka Central High School district.
The day of the trip, Dougherty called Lewis to ask for her permission for her son to attend. At the time, Dougherty had just returned to his position after an unexplained leave of absence. He told Lewis he had not been made aware of the event.
Some 90 minutes later, Dougherty said that Terrell Lewis and the other fellows would not be able to go on the trip because they hadn’t receive clearance. The students were also told they were responsible for arranging their own transportation.
“I called the fellow advisers, and they didn’t know anything about a bus coming,” Lewis said. “It just didn’t make sense.”
When she questioned Jaime about the bus trip, he responded that he went as “Michael Jaime” and as a “chaperone,” not as a representative of the Sewanhaka or Elmont districts.
“I was asked by Dr. Alston to chaperone the group, and because it was going to be a number of students, you never have one chaperone,” Jaime said. “Dr. Alston’s mother is a New York state certified teacher, and that’s why she was selected.”
According to the Sewanhaka high school district’s policy on travel and conference requests, the superintendent is required to grant final approval, except for Board of Education members.
Elmont elementary Superintendent Kenneth Rosner said he authorized the bus.
“They did not go on the trip, but the intent was to make sure that the bus was provided for our students to meet President Obama,” Rosner said.
Lynette Battle, Elmont’s PTSA president, said she was not surprised when she first heard about the situation, given the feelings of mistrust expressed to the board in recent years. For example, Dougherty was placed on administrative leave for reasons that were not disclosed by the district, prompting protests from students and parents, who demanded answers.
“I felt it was retribution — that this was intentional,” Battle said. “Transparency in working with those who feel like they’ve been alienated and cast aside, to make sure that you’re doing the right thing by those individuals — that’s the only way things gets better.”
Additional reporting by Kepherd Daniel.