Need Help?

Call AFC's Education Helpline
(866) 427-6033
Monday to Thursday
10 am to 4 pm 

Resource library: View AFC's guidebooks, fact sheets, and more

Micaela’s Story

Micaela is a dual-language learner who is on the autism spectrum and needed an appropriate school placement for kindergarten.

Stay connected

Sign up for AFC's email updates and find other ways to take action.

News & Media

AFC in the News

08.23.2023 | NY1 | “It saddens me that a child has to be excluded from programs that they might enjoy, that they might like, just because of physical disability,” Espino said. “It makes me feel horrible for a parent who can’t really choose schools based on performance, based on what they have to offer. The last thing they should have to think about is, ‘will my kid be able to get in the building?’” 

A new report from Advocates for Children found that two-thirds of the city’s public schools are not fully accessible to people with physical disabilities. There are more than 1,400 school buildings in the city, some of them housing multiple schools. This school year:

  • Only 34% of those school buildings are fully accessible
  • Nearly 20% are partially accessible
  • Almost 5% are not fully accessible, but are in the pipeline for improvements
  • And 41% of buildings are fully or functionally inaccessible.

AFC uses the term functionally inaccessible for buildings a wheelchair user may be able to enter, but which doesn’t offer any classrooms on the first floor, meaning they’re not an educational option for those students. 

A partially accessible school has classrooms a child can access, but they may be cut off from huge parts of the building. “You might be able to get in the door, but there might be whole areas of the building that are totally off limits. So you can’t get into the science lab. You can’t take that class or you can’t participate in certain clubs. You aren’t a full member of the school community,” Sarah Part, senior policy analyst at Advocates for Children, said. Watch video

08.23.2023 | Chalkbeat NY | Fewer than one in three New York City public schools are fully accessible to students with physical disabilities, according to a report released Wednesday by Advocates for Children that calls on the city to ramp up funding for building upgrades. 

The city is on track to boost the share of fully accessible programs from about one in five schools to one in three under the current capital program, according to the Advocates for Children analysis. (The figures do not include certain alternative schools, prekindergarten programs, or charter schools. Nor do they include satellite campuses, as schools may have more than one location.) 

“That represents a huge amount of progress, which really shows that when you commit to making schools accessible, you can make a huge difference,” said Sarah Part, a policy analyst at Advocates for Children. “The current lack of accessibility isn’t inevitable.” Read article

08.23.2023 | NY Daily News | More than two-thirds of New York City public schools are not fully accessible for students with physical disabilities, making many programs out of reach for children in wheelchairs or with limited mobility, according to a new report out Wednesday. 

At four in 10 schools there are no accessible classrooms at all, stranding hundreds of kids at the schoolhouse door when classes resume in just a couple of weeks, researchers found. 

“No child should be turned away from a school because the facilities are not accessible,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, which published the analysis. 

Under federal law, people with disabilities are entitled to equal access to public programs and services, including public schools. While the city has taken long-delayed steps in recent years to move closer to that promise, scores of children are still shut out of their neighborhood schools. Read article

08.23.2023 | City & State | Only 31% of 1,587 New York City public schools are expected to be fully accessible for students with physical disabilities entering the new academic year, and about 39% remain “functionally or fully inaccessible,” to students, visitors or educators who use a wheelchair, according to a report released Wednesday. 

The latest numbers, compiled by nonprofit Advocates for Children, shows that the New York City Department of Education’s $750 million allocation toward building accessibility projects in 2019 helped the school system make some important strides in nearing its goal of making one-third of buildings fully accessible by 2024, but much work remains. Barriers for students with physical disabilities like inaccessible entryways, exits and playgrounds persist in many schools even as some progress has been made.  Read article

07.19.2023 | The New York Times | The delays “make this system so burdensome for parents, and harm students in so many ways,” said Rebecca Shore, the litigation director at Advocates for Children, the nonprofit group that filed the 2003 suit with the firm Milbank. 

The process, she added, “is especially hard for families who do not have resources.” 

One public school parent, Maria, who spoke on the condition that she be identified by only her first name because of privacy concerns, said she filed a special education complaint four years ago for her son David, who has a learning disability. 

A year later, the Education Department was ordered to pay for David, now 16, to attend a private tutoring center in Manhattan. But at one point, it owed the center more than $60,000, Maria’s lawyer said, and warned that her son might lose his spot if payment did not arrive. 

The city was also required to pay about $47 a week for MetroCards to travel from the Bronx, she said. But Maria said she spent more than $1,200 of family funds on transportation while waiting months for reimbursement, and was forced to cut down on spending on groceries. Read article

07.19.2023 | NY1 | “For a number of families who don’t have the ability and the resources to front the money and essentially give a loan to the DOE, without interest and for an unspecified amount of time, it means that those students aren’t able to get the services that are being ordered for them,” Rebecca Shore, director of litigation at Advocates for Children, said. 

If they pay out of pocket and await reimbursement, the cost can be staggering. 

“We’ve had families that have had to take out mortgages on their home, take second lines of credit,” Shore said. 

It’s the focus of a lawsuit that was initially filed by the organization Advocates for Children in 2003. In a 2007 settlement, the Education Department agreed that it would implement hearing orders within 35 days. 

As of this year, the city is failing to meet that standard 97% of the time. Watch video

07.19.2023 | NY Daily News | “We’ve had families that have had to take out mortgages on their home,” said Rebecca Shore, the head of litigation at Advocates for Children, “take second lines of credits, because they are paying for the services for the education that the DOE was required to provide.” 

Advocates for Children is an education legal aid group that, alongside the law firm Milbank LLP, filed the original class action two decades ago. 

“The ideal would be that the Department of Education provides the services that the student needs,” said Shore. “When that doesn’t happen, which unfortunately does not happen in New York City all the time, there has to be a way of recourse for those families.” Read article

07.07.2023 | Gothamist | “There is much more work to do but we appreciate the restoration of key programs that will allow students to continue receiving mental health services and for immigrant families to get information about their children’s schools at a time of growing need,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children of New York, which lobbied intensely for those programs. Read article

07.06.2023 | Public News Service | Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, director of the Immigrant Students Rights Project at Advocates for Children of New York, noted funds for outreach to immigrant families are also facing cuts, which she said could be detrimental for immigrant students and their families. 

"Families can't just receive notices, for example, over email or go on the daily website," Rodriguez-Engberg argued. "They need more engagement from schools, like getting letters to the home, getting phone calls, having more one-to-one contact, being in the community and getting information in their language about their children's education." 

She added instead of cutting funding, more money needs to be put toward transfer schools, which help older immigrant students by providing English as a New Language courses, and working with community-based organizations to provide wrap-around services. 

Advocates for Children of New York's report finds immigrant students had a dropout rate three times higher than non-immigrant students in 2022. 

At the state level, Rodriguez-Engberg hopes officials can step in with increased funding for programs benefiting immigrant students. She recommends providing incentives for people wanting to become bilingual special-education teachers or other education professionals, and called for a focus on helping them. 

"Because English language learners have been left behind for so long, I think it's time for the city and the DOE to pay more attention to them," Rodriguez-Engberg urged. "To have designated pedagogues at school that pay attention to whether or not English language learners can read, are participating in school, are receiving grade level content, and are on track to pass to the next grade." Read article

06.29.2023 | The Washington Post | Still, some city advocates say they aren’t sure the breathing program is the best way to treat mental health. Dawn Yuster, a director of the Advocates for Children of New York, said she worries schools will lean on the breathing program instead of applying more vigorous mental health techniques, such as counseling. 

“It is not a replacement for programs and initiatives for children and young people who have more significant mental health needs,” Yuster said. Read article