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11.03.2020 | NY Daily News | “It’s a huge drop,” said Maggie Moroff, the Special Education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children. “Those are kids that in other years would have been referred, they would in other years be getting services and supports now," she added. 

Advocates say the precipitous drop in special education referrals is likely related to the coronavirus school shutdown from mid-March to June. Families already overwhelmed by the virus and remote learning were probably less likely to ask for testing, Moroff said. At the same time, teachers felt less able to submit special education referrals for students they weren’t observing in person, Moroff added.

Some schools told families to table the topic of special education until this Fall, when in-person classes restarted, Moroff added. “Everyone was scrambling,” explained Moroff, who noted Education Department officials had to figure out how to conduct complex evaluations remotely. “But what it all translates to is a lot of kids now going without services they probably should be getting, and in any an [sic] other year they would be getting.”

The drop in special education referrals is another worrisome development for the roughly 200,000 city students with disabilities, who were among the hardest-hit by the shift to remote learning. Officials say they’ve worked to smooth the transition for those students by prioritizing them for city-funded iPads, offering services like physical and speech therapy online, and conducting evaluations and IEP meetings remotely.

Roughly 16% of students with special education plans didn’t receive at least some of their mandated services by the end of the school year, the data shows — a slight increase over last year. Advocates for Children warned those figures “do not capture the significant regression many students experienced because their special education supports simply did not translate online.”Read article

11.02.2020 | Politico New York | Dozens of education advocates are urging the State Education Department and the Board of Regents to remove the Regents exam as a graduation requirement until August 2021 because of the pandemic's impact on schools. 

In a letter to the agency and the Regents sent on Friday, advocates said that while the state needs federal approval to cancel standardized exams, they want the state to extend the Covid-19 exemption from last spring that separated the Regents exams from diploma requirements. “Teachers’ focus should be on creating the most engaging learning environments possible under the circumstances and on supporting their students’ social-emotional wellbeing — not on preparing them to pass a high-stakes standardized test needed for graduation,” the letter reads. 

The letter includes a few dozen signatories who are part of the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma, including Advocates for Children of New York, Alliance for Quality Education, Bronx Defenders, Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project and the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. It is the latest push against the statewide exam, a metric for academic success that has fielded criticism amid the pandemic from those who say it puts certain groups at a disadvantage. Read article (Subscription required)

10.28.2020 | Chalkbeat NY | Lack of internet access has long been a problem at city shelters, which housed more than 34,000 city students during the 2018-2019 school year, according to Advocates For Children New York. But the pandemic exacerbated the issues as more children relied on the internet to participate in remote schooling.

“We’re glad that after months of raising concerns, the mayor has committed to ensuring students living in shelter have the connectivity they need to log on to school,” said Randi Levine, policy director for Advocates For Children New York. “We are eager to hear more details, including a timeline, as we continue to hear from families in shelters who are continuing to miss out on school because they can’t get online.” Read article

10.23.2020 | Chalkbeat NY | And across the city, students with disabilities have been assigned remote classes that are far bigger than what they are entitled to under their special education plans, according to the nonprofit group Advocates for Children. 

That is why advocates say it is more important than ever that the country’s largest school system meet an annual Nov. 15 deadline to provide class-size reports for every school. Understanding the breakdowns could shed light on important equity issues, since many students with disabilities are required to have smaller class sizes, and a disproportionate number of white students have opted to return to school buildings, compared to students of color, raising concerns about access to instructional time. Read article

10.21.2020 | BronxNet TV | OPEN Host Daren Jaime sits down with the Director of Advocates for Children of New York's Parent Center, Lilliana Díaz-Pedrosa, discussing how the organization is providing advocacy on educational issues affecting public school students in New York City. Watch video

10.19.2020 | Chalkbeat NY | Monday’s change to the proposal — originally floated in January as a way to ease a massive backlog of cases — comes after special education advocates and attorneys serving low-income families argued for months that only those with legal training should oversee these complicated cases. 

Had the proposal passed, New York would have become the ninth state to allow people without law degrees to adjudicate cases in which families argue that their children are not receiving needed special education services. 

“We especially didn’t support it because it was targeted just at New York City, so the pulling of the proposal responds to the real volume of comments that were heard from advocates in this community,” said Rebecca Shore, director of litigation at Advocates For Children New York. Read article

10.16.2020 | Chalkbeat NY | Ashley Grant, a lawyer with Advocates for Children New York, believes the state should unlink Regents exams from graduation requirements — for which it does not need federal approval — and can do that without making the call now about cancellations. Her organization is part of the Coalition for Multiple Pathways calling for project-based assessments in lieu of the Regents, and has been pushing the state to figure out other ways to show students are ready to graduate. 

“During these challenging times, students and educators should be able to focus on maximizing remote or hybrid learning by prioritizing students’ social-emotional needs,” Grant wrote to the Board of Regents on Aug. 21, “and zeroing in on the key standards at each grade level that will prepare students for future success, rather than worrying about high-stakes tests.” Read article

10.15.2020 | Chalkbeat NY | An initial look at the city data also showed that average daily engagement was 70% or less for homeless students at about 300 schools, said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children, which has pushed for more support for students in shelters, many of whom are still struggling to log on due to spotty internet connections. (A department spokesperson said the city is working to address connectivity issues.) 

“The data highlight the need for the city to work across agencies to ensure students who are homeless have the technology, space, and support needed to engage in remote learning this year,” Levine wrote in an email. Read article

10.15.2020 | Gothamist | At issue are the students’ legally-binding Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which require they are taught by two teachers—one licensed in general education and one licensed in special education—alongside their general-education peers. During a regular year, about 100,000 students are enrolled in the ICT program and attend classes that have no more than 40% (or 12) students with disabilities. Now, due to the pandemic staffing shortage, many students instead find themselves in classes with a single general-education teacher or a single special-education teacher, not both... 

Maggie Moroff, special-education coordinator at the nonprofit group Advocates for Children, said ICT was designed to serve students with disabilities and those without. “The goal is inclusion, having those kids learn side by side with their more typical peers,” she said, with the help of a special-education teacher who provides supports and accommodations. Read article

10.14.2020 | VICE | Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children of New York, said it’s unclear how many of New York City’s roughly 114,000 homeless kids just stopped regularly showing up for school due to the COVID-19 pandemic... “The dropout rate was already high, and there’s a concern about whether that increases,” Levine said. 

Levine’s organization has heard about instances of New York City’s homeless children falling behind or losing critical skills during online learning. Although the city worked out iPads and T-Mobile hotspots for homeless students, attorneys noted in a recent letter to the city’s departments of education and homeless services that shelters often fall in cellular “dead zones.” ... One older homeless girl even stopped eating during the distress caused by remote learning, Levine said. School was a haven for her. That goes to show that children will need intensive support—including emotional support—once they return to school, according to Levine. How that will be accomplished when New York City is in an economic crisis, she said, is unclear. Read article