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first page of data brief06.03.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data brief, Police Response to Students in Emotional Crisis: A Call for Comprehensive Mental Health and Social-Emotional Support for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF], exploring data on police response to more than 12,000 incidents between July 2016 and June 2020 involving a student in emotional distress removed from class and transported to the hospital for psychological evaluation—what the New York Police Department (NYPD) terms a “child in crisis” intervention. Mirroring broader trends in policing, a disproportionate share of these interventions involved Black students, students attending New York City Department of Education (DOE) District 75 special education schools, and students attending schools located in low-income communities of color. The brief calls on the City to end the criminalization of students in emotional crisis by eliminating police from schools and invest in a comprehensive, integrated system of school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral and mental health supports and services that will promote well-being and equity for all students and school staff.

The new brief is an update to AFC’s November 2017 report, Children in Crisis, which examined NYPD data on such interventions during the 2016-17 school year, the first full year for which data were publicly available pursuant to the Student Safety Act. In subsequent years, the number of child in crisis interventions only increased: during the first three quarters of the 2019-20 school year—the months prior to the closure of school buildings due to COVID-19—the number of child in crisis interventions was approximately 24% higher than the equivalent time period in 2016-17. Overall, almost half of all interventions during the past four school years involved children between the ages of 4 and 12, and in 297 instances, the NYPD handcuffed a student who was under the age of 13, including three 5-year-olds, seven 6-year-olds, and 23 7-year-olds.

Our analysis finds that Black students—particularly Black boys—and students with disabilities attending District 75 special education schools are dramatically over-represented in the population of students for whom an emotional crisis at school leads to an interaction with the police and removal to the hospital emergency room, as well as those handcuffed during these incidents. Between July 2018 and March 2020:

  • More than a quarter (26.7%) of child in crisis interventions involved Black boys, who were only 13% of the public school population; Black girls comprised 12.4% of overall enrollment but 20.1% of those subject to child in crisis interventions. 
  • More than one out of every three (36.7%) students handcuffed while in emotional crisis was a Black boy; Black girls subject to these interventions were handcuffed at twice the rate of White girls. 
  • Of the children between the ages of 4 and 12 who experienced a child in crisis intervention during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, more than half (51.8%) were Black. 
  • At least 9.1% of all child in crisis interventions occurred in District 75 schools, even though District 75 enrolled only 2.3% of New York City students. More than one out of every five (21.3%) students handcuffed while in crisis was a student with a disability in District 75.

The data also show that law enforcement intervened in student mental health crises at significantly higher rates, relative to total enrollment, at schools in the Bronx, central Brooklyn, parts of midtown Manhattan, and southeast Queens, as compared to schools elsewhere in the five boroughs. Overall, nearly a third (32.7%) of all child in crisis interventions between July 2016 and June 2020 occurred in just ten of the City’s 77 police precincts—eight in the Bronx, along with the precincts encompassing Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn—even though schools located in those precincts enrolled less than a fifth of City students. Together, just two Bronx precincts—the 42nd and the 48th, which cover Morrisania, East Tremont, Belmont, and West Farms—handcuffed more children between the ages of 5 and 12 than all sixteen precincts in Queens combined.

“Students in emotional crisis need emotional support; they don’t need to be criminalized and handcuffed,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “As a city, we need to start treating all students as we want our own children to be treated.”

“Police responses are extremely traumatic for the student, their peers, and all school staff who witness the police intervention,” said Jennifer Finn, a special education teacher and member of Teachers Unite. “It is impossible to justify the use of law enforcement when a student needs emotional and behavioral support.”

The brief makes a number of recommendations for transforming the City’s response to children in emotional crisis and building the DOE’s capacity to provide effective behavioral and mental health supports to students. Among other recommendations detailed in the report, the City should:

  • Stop calling 911, the police, or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to take students to the hospital emergency room when medically unnecessary; 
  • Enact Intro 2188, a bill pending in the City Council that would significantly curtail the NYPD’s ability to handcuff students in emotional crisis; 
  • Hire more clinically-trained mental health staff in schools or in organizations partnered with schools; 
  • Include $118 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget to fund the full implementation of restorative practices; 
  • Invest $15 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget for an integrated system of targeted and intensive supports and services for students with significant mental health needs, such as through the Mental Health Continuum recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, the City Council, and the Comptroller; 
  • Staff the Borough Offices and District 75 with additional behavior specialists to provide direct support to schools struggling to address student behavior; and 
  • Expand inclusive school program options for students with emotional, behavioral, or mental health disabilities. 

“As a parent of a student with a disability and a Council Member in the Bronx, I am horrified by the idea that police are handcuffing students when they are in emotional crisis and that this is disproportionately impacting students with disabilities, Black children, and students in the Bronx,” said City Council Member Diana Ayala. “I have heard directly from impacted parents about how traumatic this experience is for their children. We must immediately pass Int. 2188, which outlines steps police must take before intervening when a student is in crisis and significantly limits their ability to handcuff these children.”

“Given the trauma that so many students have experienced over the past year and a half, it is more critical than ever that the DOE invest in public health alternatives to police interventions and 911 calls,” said Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project. “None of us would head to a police precinct for mental health care for ourselves or our children—nor should we rely on police to address children’s emotional needs at school.”

Read the data brief [PDF]
View the news release as a PDF

06.02.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) joined 35 child welfare and education organizations to call on Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Porter to invest in support for students in foster care. We're aksing that they provide funding in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget to create a DOE office focused full-time on students in foster care and to guarantee school bus or other door-to-door transportation for students in foster care who need it to maintain school stability. 

Read the sign-on letter [PDF]

Spring 2021 | AFC has outlined our priorities for education investments we are recommending for the final NYC budget as the City decides how to use the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history.  Learn more about our COVID-19 Education Recovery Plan and NYC budget priorities

On May 25, 2021, we testified [PDF] before the City Council on the Mayor’s budget proposal, outlining our priorities for an ambitious education initiative to direct the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history. Click on the links below to learn more about each of AFC's advocacy priorities [PDF] for the Fiscal Year 2022 New York City budget. 

Education Budget Priorities for NYC Fiscal Year 2022 Budget [PDF]
The Fiscal Year 2022 Executive Budget includes some important education investments, including 100% Fair Student Funding for all schools. In addition, we are encouraged to see investments in areas such as special education services, preschool special education, and social workers. However, the Executive Budget is short on details in some areas and provides inadequate funding levels to meet the need in other areas. Based on our work on the ground partnering with individual families to help their children succeed in school, we have laid out our recommendations for education investments we would like to see in the final NYC budget.

COVID-19 Education Recovery [PDF
Over the past year, the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to the education of children and youth—and the students hit hardest have been those who were already struggling in school or marginalized on the basis of race, poverty, disability, immigration status, English proficiency, homelessness, or involvement in the child welfare or juvenile or criminal justice systems. New York City needs an ambitious Education Recovery Plan to pave the way to hope and opportunity for this generation of students. Such a plan must invest resources in academic support, mental health support, and outreach and engagement. It must be targeted to assist students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including the provision of specialized instruction and support where needed. With the federal government having approved the largest one-time investment in education in our nation’s history, planning must happen now if we are to make the best use of the resources coming our way and ensure an effective transition back into the classroom for hundreds of thousands of students. This document contains our recommendations for steps the City should take.

Teach Every Student to Read [PDF
One of the most fundamental responsibilities of schools is to teach children how to read, and there is a mountain of scientific research on how to do so effectively. Yet far too many NYC students struggle to become skilled readers—less than half of third through eighth graders, and only 36% of Black and Hispanic students and 16% of students with disabilities in grades 3–8, were reading proficiently in 2019—while far too many schools continue to use ineffective curricula that are not aligned with the science, and far too many teachers have never been trained in evidence-based practice. As the City plans for education recovery, it must invest in a comprehensive effort to revamp the way it provides reading instruction to all students and targeted interventions to students who need extra support, including those in middle and high school.

Mental Health Supports for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF
The COVID-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated social-emotional challenges for all members of the school community. While the City has committed to addressing student mental health, there is not sufficient additional funding directed towards their needs. The current proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 contains merely a $35 million increase for Social-Emotional Learning, leaving schools to find a way to provide additional services for students without the funding to pay for them. It is more urgent than ever that the City make students’ mental health and well-being a top priority. The City must re-allocate the $450 million NYPD budget for school policing to support the mental health and social-emotional needs of NYC’s students by funding direct services to support students' social-emotional needs; targeted intensive mental health supports for students; and the expansion and full implementation of school-wide restorative justice practices.

Meet the Need for Preschool Special Education Class Seats [PDF
By early March 2020, hundreds of NYC students were already sitting at home—not because of the pandemic, but because the City did not have enough seats in preschool special education classes. As a result, children with disabilities who had a legal right to a preschool special education class missed a critical opportunity for intervention during the window of time when these services can have the greatest impact. The City must ensure there is a preschool special class seat for every child who requires one, either by opening more DOE-run classes or by ensuring CBOs do so, and should extend salary parity to teachers of CBO preschool special classes so they may continue to support preschoolers with disabilities.

Support Students in Foster Care [PDF
Approximately 6,000 New York City students are in foster care each year. Students in foster care are disproportionately Black and come from NYC’s poorest communities. They are among the most likely to repeat a grade, be chronically absent, or leave high school without a diploma—and were impacted particularly hard by the closure of schools. To support students in foster care, the FY 2022 budget should include $5 million for bus service for students in foster care to increase school stability and $1.5 million to establish a small Department of Education office focused on supporting students in foster care.

05.25.2021 | Today, AFC testified before the City Council Committee on Finance on the Executive Budget, outlining our priorities for the historic influx of education funding from the state and federal governments. The City must use that funding effectively to provide needed academic and social-emotional support, incorporating outreach to students and families who have not yet re-engaged and specialized support for students who need it. Read our testimony [PDF]

04.16.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committees on Education and General Welfare about the importance of having an intentional, targeted plan to support students in shelter as the City decides how to use its historic influx of education funding. Read our testimony [PDF]

03.23.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committee on Education on the preliminary budget, outlining our priorities for an ambitious education initiative to direct the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history. Read our testimony

first page of sign-on letter03.09.2021 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over 150 parents, educators, and other individuals from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department (NYSED), urging them to give students aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2021-22 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

New Yorkers have the right to attend school to work toward a high school diploma until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Although most students who graduate do so in four years, a small subset of young people — disproportionately students of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities — need five, six, or even seven years to finish high school. Each year, roughly 2,000-3,000 students across New York State graduate after their sixth year of high school.

Given the massive educational disruptions caused by COVID-19, NYSED and the Board of Regents issued guidance last June strongly encouraging schools to allow 21-year-olds who would otherwise be aging out of school in 2020 to return for the summer and, if necessary, attend high school this year to complete their education. As the pandemic continues, it is critical that the State immediately extend this guidance so that students who turn 21 during this school year can return for the 2021-22 school year to complete coursework or meet special education transition goals.

One young person who benefited from the extra time in school this year is Kenny Abraham, a 21-year-old who graduated in January 2021.  Kenny, an English Language Learner from Haiti, worked multiple jobs throughout high school to help support his mother and two younger siblings, which made it difficult to keep up with his education.  Kenny had fallen further behind due to the stress of the pandemic — at one point working three jobs to help his family. He would have aged out of school without a diploma in June 2020, but the State’s policy allowed him to reenroll and finish his diploma requirements at the Downtown Brooklyn Young Adult Borough Center (YABC).

“When the pandemic started, I was about to turn 21, so I thought my chance for a high school diploma was over,” Kenny Abraham said.  “When I found out I was allowed to stay in high school, I was so excited that I could finish with help from teachers and school staff who knew me. Other students deserve to get the same chance I did.”

The letter also urges NYSED to, once again, extend eligibility to students with disabilities who need more time to work toward their postsecondary transition goals. Shari DiStefano’s daughter Brianna turned 21 in December and will age out of her District 75 high school program in June. Before the pandemic, Brianna was preparing for life after high school by working in the school store, participating in a cooking program, and learning to use a calculator and cash register.  When her school went remote in March 2020, Brianna, who has autism, could no longer participate in these programs.

“Schools are doing their best. But without in-person, hands-on supports, I’ve watched Brianna’s skills regress significantly,” said Ms. DiStefano. “Students like Brianna have already missed out on a critical year of transition supports that simply cannot be provided remotely. We’re just asking for her to have the opportunity to make up those experiences so she can be ready for life after high school.”

“With so many students falling behind this year, the State should extend the age students can stay in school and give young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, Director of the Postsecondary Readiness Project at Advocates for Children of New York and Coordinator of the statewide Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma.

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

03.03.2021 | This week, Advocates for Children of New York joined more than 75 organizations to call on Governor Cuomo to ensure that schools get their full COVID-19 federal relief funding and that federal funding supplements, and does not supplant, state funding. The current Executive budget proposal would cut more than $700 million in state funding to NYC schools, potentially requiring NYC to use its federal COVID-19 education relief funding to cover regular day-to-day expenses instead of using it for the essential purposes intended by Congress of reopening schools and counteracting the unprecedented learning loss students have experienced. Without substantial state and federal support, the devastating impacts of this pandemic will plague the children of New York City with lifelong consequences.

Read the letter [PDF]

02.25.2021 | Today, AFC is submitting testimony for the New York State Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the 2021-2022 Executive Budget Health Proposal urging the Legislature to reject proposals to cut state funding for the Early Intervention (EI) program by limiting the services children can receive and, instead, invest more in EI by asking private health insurance companies to pay their fair share. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.18.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education in response to the school safety bills in support of proposed legislation regulating the New York City Police Department’s response to students in emotional crisis within public schools, significantly limiting the use of handcuffs on students in emotional crisis, and to express concern about the need for a new vision of school safety, beyond merely transferring the School Safety Division from the NYPD to the Department of Education. Read our testimony [PDF]