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Michelle, a 20-year-old from Haiti, spoke very little English but had dreams of earning a high school diploma and attending college.

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Press Releases

01.24.2017 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement regarding the release of the Preliminary Budget: “We were glad to see Mayor de Blasio include increased funding for the City’s special education data system in the Preliminary Budget.  It is critical that the City have a data system that can track whether and when required services are provided to students with disabilities.  A reliable data system will allow the City to identify where students are not receiving mandated services and to take the necessary steps to ensure that students receive the educational support they need and is guaranteed by federal law.” View statement as a PDF

report cover12.08.2016 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) is releasing a report, Obstacles and Opportunities: Creating Career and Technical Education Pathways for Students with Disabilities [PDF], which analyzes access to high school-level career and technical education (CTE) programs for students with disabilities in New York State.  In 2015, less than 50% of students with disabilities graduated from high school in four years, compared to about 83% of general education students. The new report, which analyzes public data on outcomes for students in CTE programs, finds that more than 75% of students with disabilities who completed at least two-thirds of a CTE program went on to graduate, compared to about 90% of general education students—effectively cutting the graduation gap in half for these students.

The paper finds that although students with disabilities made up about 15% of the class that was expected to graduate in 2015, they comprised only 11.6% of students reported to have completed most of a CTE program. Based on data findings and interviews with professionals, special education advocates, and parents of students with disabilities, AFC recommends changes to policy and practice to address barriers to CTE.

View the press release [PDF]
Read the report [PDF]

10.31.2016 | Today, the City released 2015-2016 school year data pursuant to the Student Safety Act showing the number of suspensions totaled 37,647, which is a decrease by approximately 16% compared to the previous year and by almost 46% compared to five years ago. Despite these improvements, Black students and students with disabilities continued to be disproportionately suspended from school. 

In the 2015-2016 school year, Black students were suspended at 3.61 times the rate of White students—down from 3.94 in the prior year. In the same year, although students with disabilities comprised about 18.7% of the student population, they comprised 38.6% of the total number of suspensions—up from 38.2% in the prior year.

While the total number of suspensions decreased, the data released today reveals that the number of teacher’s classroom removals increased to a total of 11,943, nearly 5% over the prior year. The City also publicly released for the first time the number of students in temporary housing suspended from school and the number of students suspended more than once in the 2015-2016 school year. Students in temporary housing made up 10% of the student population, but accounted for 12% of the total number of suspensions. 25.24% of students suspended were suspended more than once.

“We are pleased to see the numbers continue to go down. We hope to see the City make a long-term commitment—with the funding and the inter-agency collaboration to back it up—to continue to move from a punitive and exclusionary approach to discipline to a preventive and restorative one, while ensuring that all children have the social-emotional supports they need and eliminating disparities by race and disability in disciplinary practices,” said Kim Sweet, the Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.

NYPD data for the third quarter of 2016 also released today shows significant racial disparities in students arrested, handcuffed, and issued summonses. Additionally, the data reveals a mismatch in city agency intervention: 25% of police interventions in schools had nothing to do with law enforcement, but rather involved students in emotional distress.

Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project, said, “The Administration should immediately adopt and implement the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline’s recommendations on mental health—namely, by launching a pilot program providing a comprehensive mental health service continuum in 20 high-needs schools, including using hospital-based clinics and providing whole-school Collaborative Problem Solving training to support these schools.”

View statement [PDF]

09.15.2016 | Today, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) released data showing that schools have continued to become safer: there are record lows in school crime and fewer students arrested for school-related incidents. Despite these improvements, new data reported pursuant to Student Safety Act amendments passed last year illustrates the critical need for the City to embark on a long overdue strategic plan to address significant racial disparities in students arrested, issued summonses, and handcuffed in school. 

“While the data shows a welcome decline in school crime, it’s very troubling to see the continued racial disparities in who is arrested or given a summons, with Black and Latino students disproportionately affected. The City needs to develop and implement a comprehensive plan that tackles these disparities head on and uses data to target its efforts effectively,” said Kim Sweet, the Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.

In addition to the racial disparities, the second quarter data suggests that some school staff have not received appropriate de-escalation training and some schools do not have appropriate de-escalation plans in place to manage students in emotional crisis, as required by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor’s Regulation A-411. Consequently, students in emotional crisis as young as 7 years old are getting handcuffed in schools.

The data also shows that students—almost all of whom are students of color—get entangled in the court system for noncriminal incidents at school. Students as young as 16 years old receive a summons to appear in court for minor misbehavior that does not rise to the level of a crime. The City must move quickly to revise the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NYPD and the DOE to decriminalize student misbehavior by clearly delineating the roles of school administrators and the NYPD.

Finally, the data reveals a troubling number of students arrested in school for incidents that occurred outside of school. 38% of student arrests in school were for non-school related incidents. “Schools are places of learning. Students should not fear that they or their friends will be interrogated, arrested, and hauled off in handcuffs by police officers when they go to school,” said Dawn Yuster, School Justice Project Director at Advocates for Children of New York.

View statement [PDF]

07.21.2016 | Today, the City announced its intention to implement the recommendation of the Mayoral Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline to modify the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) discipline code to end suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade and increase support for positive behavior interventions in schools.  Advocates for Children of New York staunchly supports the elimination of suspensions for these students and the use of a developmentally sound approach to address the behavior of young children instead. 

“Suspending a young child from school does nothing to teach social-emotional skills or change the child’s behavior when the child returns, and removing children from the classroom causes them to fall behind in key academic skills, such as learning to read. The City should act quickly to implement the changes recommended,” said Kim Sweet, the Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  

As NYPD data also released today reveals, our schools have become safer: crime is down, fewer students are arrested, and most police encounters with students are for low-level crimes and noncriminal offenses.  Despite these improvements, new data reported pursuant to Student Safety Act amendments passed last year illustrates the continued need for the City to embark on a long overdue strategic plan to address significant racial disparities in students arrested, handcuffed, and issued summonses, as well as in students suspended.  

The Leadership Team’s report contains a number of additional recommendations that should be implemented, including:  

  • Launching a pilot program providing a comprehensive mental health service continuum in 20 high-needs schools, including using hospital-based clinics and providing whole-school Collaborative Problem Solving training to support these schools, and  
  • Revising the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the DOE to decriminalize student misbehavior by clearly delineating the roles of school administrators and the NYPD, specifying minor offenses that will not result in student arrest or receipt of a summons, and creating an arrest diversion program for lower-level crimes. 

Says Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project, “There are a lot of excellent ideas in this report.  Now the City needs to make them happen.”

View full statement [PDF]

06.07.2016 | A coalition of national, statewide and local organizations today urged passage of A.8396, the Judge Judith S. Kaye Safe and Supportive School Act, New York legislation aimed at promoting positive school climates and reducing racial discipline disparities. Their remarks come on the heels of new national data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Eights (OCR) showing persistent racial disparities in student suspensions and expulsions. 

“The U.S. Department of Education data is clear that Black girls are especially vulnerable to racially-biased discipline and school policing, even as young learners. While Black girls make up only 20 percent of preschool enrollment, they are half of preschool girls who receive out-of-school suspensions. When we see such racial disparities in these early years, we know that new approaches are needed,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “The findings confirm that we must support reforms included in the Safe and Supportive Schools Act and continue to work on behalf of children who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination due to their race.”

View full statement from the New York Coalition for Safe & Supportive Schools [PDF]

05.24.2016 | The New York Bar Foundation recently presented a grant of $6,200 to Advocates for Children of New York. The grant will be used to support their Assistance for Children with Disabilities program. “The support of the New York Bar Foundation will help make it possible for us to provide legal services to low-income students and families who have nowhere else to turn,” states Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children.  The goal for all of AFC’s work is that children succeed in schools and programs that provide appropriate levels of challenge and support.

View press release from the New York Bar Foundation [PDF]

05.19.2016 | As the New York State Senate Education Committee holds a hearing today on mayoral control of New York City schools, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), released the following statement supporting a long-term extension of mayoral control: 

As a watchdog agency working to protect the rights of students, we know that there is substantial room for improvement in our public schools. But we also know that mayoral control has led to an infusion of attention and resources that has produced results for our City’s students and schools. Having monitored the City’s school system before and after mayoral control went into effect, we strongly support a long-term extension of mayoral control.

By various indicators, we have seen steady improvement in student outcomes under mayoral control. We have seen these gains for the student population as a whole as well as for subgroups of students such as students with disabilities. We have also seen mayoral initiatives, like Pre-K for All and the expansion of community schools, which would not have been possible without the ability to marshal the resources of various city agencies.

We have not agreed with every decision that Mayor Bloomberg or Mayor de Blasio has made about our City’s schools. But we agree that the mayor, as the City’s top elected leader, should be responsible for the education of the City’s students.

The question about mayoral control should focus not on who is mayor but on how we build an education system that best serves children. Mayoral control in New York City has a track record of producing results for students. We urge the State Legislature to approve a long-term extension of mayoral control.

View press statement [PDF]
View testimony submitted to the New York State Senate Education Committee [PDF]

03.31.2016 | In response to today’s release of data pursuant to the Student Safety Act, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), released the following statement: 

The continued decline in suspensions is good news for the New York City public schools and the students they serve.  In an increasing number of schools, educators are working with students and families to implement evidence-based strategies, like restorative practices and collaborative problem solving, that reduce the need for suspensions without compromising safety. We urge the Mayor and the Chancellor of the Department of Education to fund further expansion of these strategies across the city.

The data released today also discloses how often students are transported from schools to hospitals by Emergency Medical Services staff for emotional or psychological reasons.  The City Council recently amended the Student Safety Act to require release of this information.  This increase in transparency is welcome, as for decades, we have seen school staff call EMS because they don’t have more appropriate strategies or support to help them de-escalate crises and address their students’ emotional needs.  This first batch of data on EMS referrals supports the call for expanding crisis intervention support for school staff and mental health services for students in our city’s schools.

View statement as a pdf

A is for All report cover03.10.2016 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) is releasing a report, A is for All: Meeting the Literacy Needs of Students with and without Disabilities in the New York City Public Schools [PDF], which documents the need for urgent and sustained action to address the particularly low literacy levels for low-income students with disabilities and prepare schools to teach reading effectively for all students. In 2015, less than 7 percent of City students with disabilities achieved proficiency on the New York State English Language Arts (ELA) exam. The report reviews research and case stories indicating that students with a wide range of disabilities are capable of learning to read if they receive appropriate instruction, discusses the key elements for teaching reading effectively, highlights a number of promising programs in New York City, and provides recommendations for implementing systemic and lasting change.

Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director, says, “Every year, Advocates for Children receives hundreds of phone calls from parents seeking help for children who are years behind in reading, at times having made it to middle or high school without ever having mastered the basic skills necessary to read street signs or restaurant menus, let alone academic texts. And every year, we see students make remarkable gains when they finally receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction that targets their individual needs. Unfortunately, whether a given student receives appropriate instruction is largely a matter of luck and family resources. We want a student with dyslexia from a low-income family in New York City to have the same opportunity to learn to read and write effectively as a student with the same disability whose family is upper-middle-class.”

View press release [PDF]
Read the report [PDF]