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Paige, a bright third grade student on the autism spectrum, sat at home for nearly two months waiting for a school placement that would meet her needs. 

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06.27.2019 | Every student in New York City has the right to attend public school, regardless of immigration status. Following recent immigration-related activities by the federal government, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) issued a letter [PDF] and flyer [PDF] to families reiterating this commitment. Both documents are available online in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. The DOE has also provided additional guidance [PDF] for principals on responding to any requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for access to schools or student records. 

Families and school staff should know that: 

  • School staff cannot ask students or parents about immigration status. Even if a student or his/her parents are undocumented, the student still has the right to receive all school services, including special education supports and services. 
     
  • ICE officers are not permitted to enter schools, except when absolutely required by law (they must have a warrant signed by a judge in all but rare emergency circumstances). If an ICE officer goes to a school for immigration enforcement purposes, he/she must wait outside of the building while the principal consults with DOE lawyers. The full protocol is available in 10 languages on the DOE's website.
     
  • The DOE will not release information from student records to immigration officers unless absolutely required by law. Undocumented parents and students have all the same rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as do other families. 
     
  • Families should update school records (the "Blue Card") to ensure that there is up-to-date contact information on file for trusted adults who can pick up a child from school, in the event that the primary parent/guardian is detained or deported.
     

It also is important to note that federal policy [PDF] currently limits immigration enforcement actions at sensitive locations, which include schools, hospitals, and places of worship.

A Q&A for families and links to additional resources are available on the DOE's website

Additional Resources

State Guidance

In 2017, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released new guidance reminding school districts of their duty to uphold the rights of immigrant students as well as guidance on combatting harassment and discrimination. These documents have been translated into 20 languages (Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, French, Fulani, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Karen, Khmer, Nepali, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Wolof). 

AFC Publications

  • AFC’s Know Your Rights guidebook provides information on the rights of immigrant students and families in the New York City public schools; it’s available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu [PDF]. See pages 20-21 of the guide for a list of organizations which provide free or low-cost immigration assistance. 
     
  • Advocates for Children also has a fact sheet on bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on race, national origin, immigration status, or religion. The fact sheet, which explains DOE policy and what parents can do if their children experience bullying or discrimination, is available in ArabicBengaliChineseEnglishFrenchHaitian CreoleRussianSpanish, and Urdu [PDF].

  • In May 2017, Advocates for Children, the Education Trust–New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families released a policy report, Safe Havens: Protecting and Supporting New York State’s Immigrant Students, which provides a roadmap for steps that New York State and district leaders should take to ensure that immigrant students and their families feel safe and supported by public schools.

Other Immigration-Related Resources

  • ActionNYC is a partnership between the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs and the City University of New York that offers free, safe immigration legal help. To make an appointment, call (800) 354-0365, Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm, or call 311 and say "ActionNYC."  The New York City Council also has a webpage with resources for the City’s immigrant communities.

  • The Legal Aid Society has two fact sheets with information on advance planning in case of parental detention, deportation, or other immigration-related emergency. These fact sheets are available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. They also run an Immigration Hotline that families can call for assistance: (844) 955-3425, Monday through Thursday, 8am to 8pm.

  • Long Island Wins provides an explanation of how a non-citizen parent can designate a close relative or friend to make school and limited health care decisions for their children (called "Designation of a Person in Parental Relation").

  • The New York Immigration Coalition has compiled a list of resources for educators and school staff on supporting undocumented students and families, a Know Your Rights Community Toolkit (available in multiple languages), and a searchable directory of legal service providers.

  • In 2017, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Immigration Law Center, MALDEF, and the national teachers' unions presented a webinar on the educational rights of immigrant children in the United States. The slide deck, which includes links to additional resources, is available in both English [PDF] and Spanish [PDF].



06.20.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio’s release of a school discipline package: 

Today, the City is taking some very important steps to support the social and emotional needs of students and keep them in school. Day after day, we see the academic and emotional harm that suspended, handcuffed, and arrested students face – particularly Black and Latino students and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately impacted. Over the years, the length of a suspension has often been way out of proportion to what the student did wrong, with the result that students have missed 45, 90, or 180 days of school and had trouble catching up and readjusting when they returned. We are pleased to see the City take action to reduce overly long suspensions and limit school-based arrests, which should decrease the long-term costs to students and communities of punishing students by pushing them out of school.  

For many years, Advocates for Children of New York has zealously advocated for all schools to have access to evidence-based approaches that keep students safe, supported, and learning in school, while they grow from their mistakes. By focusing more resources on supporting students directly through clinically trained mental health professionals in schools and Restorative Practices, the City is showing an increased commitment to keeping all students in school and learning.  

View statement as a PDF

06.19.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Council’s vote to adopt the Fiscal Year 2020 city budget: 

The budget adopted today takes important steps forward for our City’s students — increasing the number of school social workers so that more students receive the social-emotional support they need; funding additional Bridging the Gap social workers to help address the chronic absenteeism and trauma that often impede the education of students living in shelters; providing preschool special education classes for hundreds of children with disabilities who have been sitting at home waiting for the seats they need; and making more schools accessible to students, parents, and teachers with physical disabilities.  We thank Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson, Finance Committee Chair Dromm, Education Committee Chair Treyger, and the City Council for negotiating a budget that invests in children and youth who face enormous barriers and yet are too often left behind.

Social Workers for High-Needs Schools: By adding more than 200 school social workers, the City is taking an important step to focus urgently needed resources on the social-emotional needs of students.  Too often, we see schools resort to classroom removals, school suspensions, arrests, handcuffing, or EMS transports, instead of providing students with the behavioral support they need to stay and succeed in school.  This investment will allow thousands of students to get necessary support in school from mental health professionals. 

Bridging the Gap School Social Workers for Students Living in Shelters: We are pleased that 31 of the new social workers will be Bridging the Gap social workers who work with students living in shelters in schools with high concentrations of these students.  This investment will bring the total number of Bridging the Gap social workers to 100.  At a time of record student homelessness, Bridging the Gap social workers play a critical role in helping to ensure students living in shelter can get to school every day and receive needed counseling and support to address the trauma of homelessness.  Schools alone cannot end homelessness, but, with the right support, schools can transform the lives of students who are homeless.  One hundred Bridging the Gap social workers will go a long way toward helping students living in shelter overcome obstacles and succeed in school.

School Accessibility: For too long, the City has tolerated a system where students who use wheelchairs are effectively barred from most schools.  No child should be turned away from school because they can’t get into the building.  By investing $750 million over five years to make more schools accessible to students, families, and teachers with physical disabilities, the City is literally opening doors to inclusion and integration for people who are too often excluded.

Preschool Special Education Classes: Hundreds of the City’s preschoolers sat at home this year waiting for seats in preschool special education classes, in violation of their legal rights.  We are pleased that the budget includes funding to continue the preschool special education classes that the Department of Education opened this year and to add 200 new seats in September.  However, these additional seats do not meet the full need and will still leave children with disabilities at home while their peers participate in 3-K and Pre-K programs.  The City must ensure there is a preschool special education class seat available for every child who needs one.

Special Education Supports: We hear from families every day who are struggling to get the services their children need in school.  We are pleased that the budget includes funding to hire more school psychologists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and service providers; pilot an intensive program for students with autism; and launch an inclusion program for students with dyslexia and other print-based disabilities.  With nearly 40,000 NYC students with disabilities going without the full special education instruction they are entitled to receive under the law, this investment is sorely needed.

Busing for Students in Foster Care: For students who have been separated from their families and placed in foster homes, school can be a critical source of stability.  We have joined with 30 organizations to call on the City to guarantee busing for kindergarten through sixth grade students in foster care because no student in foster care should be forced to change schools due to lack of transportation.  We are pleased that budget documents indicate that the Administration has agreed to use existing resources to ensure busing for students in foster care, but need more details about how the Administration will carry out this commitment.

View statement as a PDF

06.14.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the agreement announced between Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council to fund 216 new school social workers: 

By adding more than 200 school social workers, the City is taking an important step to focus urgently needed resources on the social-emotional needs of students.  Too often, we see schools resort to classroom removals, school suspensions, arrests, handcuffing, or EMS transports, instead of providing students with the behavioral support they need to stay and succeed in school.  The funding announced today will allow thousands of students to get necessary support in school from mental health professionals.  We thank the Mayor and the City Council for their leadership on this important issue.  

We are also pleased that the Council is committed to ensuring that at least 31 of the 216 new social workers are targeted toward schools with high numbers of students living in shelter, increasing the number of Bridging the Gap social workers to 100.  Given the record numbers of students who are homeless, increasing the number of Bridging the Gap social workers is critical.

View statement as a PDF

06.11.2019 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following statement in response to Governor Cuomo’s announcement that the State is approving only a two percent increase in rates for preschool special education programs for the 2019-2020 school year: 

New York State is currently violating the rights of children who need preschool special education classes. 

The State Education Department released a memo on May 29, 2019 showing that New York City alone needs 422 additional preschool special education class seats, as well as hundreds of additional seats in preschool special classes in integrated settings, for children with disabilities.  Yet, the very next week, the State announced it would approve a meager two percent rate increase for these programs—far less than the rate increase recommended by the New York State Education Department, New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, advocates, and providers to address the shortage of programs and help ensure there is a seat for every child who needs one.

“Hundreds of preschoolers are waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education programs,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “We have heard directly from dozens of families desperate for their preschoolers to get the help they need, but who have been sitting at home for months waiting for a seat.  The newly announced rate is grossly inadequate to address this crisis.”

“My child has already been waiting five months, and the district has told us there are no seats available until September,” said Christine Agosto, the parent of three-year-old Dillon, a child diagnosed with autism.  “My child needs help.  But he’s been at home all year instead of in class because there are not enough seats for the children who need them.”

Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the State did not provide any increase in reimbursement rates for preschool special classes or preschool special classes in integrated settings for six years, keeping the rate stagnant with no cost of living adjustments.  Since that time, the State has approved only a two percent increase each year.  In recent years, more than 60 preschool special education programs have closed around the State—many of them citing inadequate rates.

AFC, along with 69 other organizations, issued the attached letter calling on the Governor to increase rates for preschool special education programs by at least five percent to address the shortage of programs.

“The State has pointed to declining enrollment numbers, but enrollment numbers don’t reflect the hundreds of children who are waiting for seats as programs continue to close,” said Randi Levine, Policy Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “Hundreds of preschoolers with disabilities are waiting for Governor Cuomo to take action.” 

View statement as a PDF
Read the letter to Governor Cuomo [PDF]

05.23.2019 | Today, Advocates for Children is testifying before the City Council Committee on Finance on the importance of increasing funding for several education priorities, including school social workers, direct mental health support for students, and educational support for students who are homeless and students in foster care. The ARISE Coalition, which is coordinated by AFC, is also testifying in support of proposed investments in school accessibility and special education.

Read AFC's testimony [PDF]
Read the ARISE Coalition's testimony [PDF]

Spring 2019 | On March 20, 2019, we testified [PDF] before the City Council Committee on Education on the preliminary budget and the importance of increasing funding for school social workers, direct mental health support for students, educational support for students who are homeless and students in foster care, and preschool special education programs. Click on the links below to learn more about each of AFC's advocacy priorities for the fiscal year 2020 City budget. 

Support for students who are homeless [PDF
In 2017-18, a record 114,659 New York City students were identified as homeless—a 66 percent increase since the 2010-11 school year. The final FY 19 budget included $13.9 million in one-year funding for Department of Education (DOE) support for students experiencing homelessness, including “Bridging the Gap” social workers to work with students living in shelters at schools with high numbers of these students, after-school literacy programs at shelters, and enrollment support for families. There is no funding in the FY 20 Preliminary Budget to continue these initiatives or for any other new supports for students who are homeless. The FY 20 budget must include and baseline last year's $13.9 million and add and baseline an additional $6.5 million to increase the number of DOE social workers dedicated to supporting students in shelters, establish an Education Support Center at the City’s shelter intake center, and increase the number of Students in Temporary Housing Central and Regional Managers. 

On March 5, 2019, AFC and more than a dozen leading child advocacy, education, and housing organizations sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio [PDF], urging him to include a significant infusion of resources in the budget to support students experiencing homelessness. 

Support for students in foster care [PDF]
Approximately 5,600 New York City students are in foster care. Students in foster care are among the most likely to need special education services, get suspended, repeat a grade, or leave high school without a diploma. Students often have to change schools upon their initial placement in foster care in New York City because they have no way to get to their original schools. The FY 2020 budget should include $5 million for yellow bus service for students in grades K-6 in foster care to ensure school remains a source of stability in their lives. The budget should also include and baseline $1.5 million to establish a Department of Education office focused on supporting students in foster care with central and borough-based staff.

On April 22, 2019, AFC joined 30 child welfare and education organizations in sending a letter to the Mayor [PDF] calling on him to increase support for students in foster care by including funding in the FY 2020 budget for these two initiatives.

School accessibility [PDF
Less than 1 in 5 of the City’s schools are fully accessible. Given the current lack of fully accessible school buildings, students with physical disabilities have limited options when applying to pre-K, elementary, middle, and high school programs. The proposed 5-year DOE Capital Plan (FY 2020-2024) includes $750 million for school accessibility, starting with $150 million for FY 20. We recommend that the final Capital Plan include at least this funding level, which would represent the largest capital funding investment in school accessibility to date.  

Investments to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline [PDF
Every child deserves to attend a high-quality school with staff who have the necessary tools and resources for building healthy, supportive, safe, and equitable learning environments for students and educators. We urge the City to invest in a comprehensive reform package that includes increasing the number of social workers; expanding whole-school restorative practices citywide; and investing in a mental health continuum to provide direct services to students at high-needs schools.

04.25.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the City’s Fiscal Year 2020 Executive Budget: 

We are pleased that the City is investing an additional $33 million to help support students with disabilities, including by hiring more school psychologists, creating additional programs for students in the early grades, and increasing the number of preschool special education class seats. We hear from families every day who are struggling to get the services their children need. We fully support the goal of creating more programs in public schools that will meet the needs of students with disabilities, including students with autism and students struggling to learn to read. We look forward to learning the details. 

Before the budget process concludes, we hope that Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will increase funding in the following areas to help students whose needs are often overlooked: 

Support for Students who are Homeless: We are pleased that the Mayor has baselined funding for 53 Bridging the Gap social workers at schools with high concentrations of students living in shelters, ending the annual budget dance and helping to ensure the long-term continuity of the program. But 53 social workers is woefully insufficient to meet the need. Currently, the City has 69 Bridging the Gap social workers, and there are still 100 schools with 50 or more students living in shelters and no Bridging the Gap social worker to focus on the needs of these students. The final budget must include funding for at least 100 Bridging the Gap social workers.

Direct Mental Health Support for Students: The City Council’s budget response called on the DOE to provide direct mental health support to students who need help the most through a school mental health continuum funded through ThriveNYC, as recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. The Council also called on the DOE to hire an additional 110 social workers for high-needs schools. These vital investments would ensure that more students get the direct mental health and behavioral services they need so they can remain in school supported and learning. However, the Executive Budget does not include funding for either of these priorities. 

Support for Students in Foster Care: For students placed in foster care, school can be a key source of stability. The City Council’s budget response called on the DOE to ensure that students in foster care receive bus service so they don’t need to switch schools due to lack of transportation. This week, more than 30 organizations sent a letter to the Mayor requesting funding for guaranteed bus service for K-6th grade students in foster care, as well as a DOE Office for Students in Foster Care, as there is currently not a single DOE staff member focused full time on this student population. However, the Executive Budget does not include funding for these priorities.

Practices That Improve School Climate: While the use of Restorative Practices in NYC schools has expanded over the last few years, most schools still do not have access to this evidence-based approach that keeps students safe, supported, and learning in school, while they grow from their mistakes. The City needs to invest in bringing Restorative Practices to every school — and do so with fidelity.

We look forward to working with the Mayor and the City Council as the budget process continues to ensure the final budget invests in these critical areas.

View statement as a PDF

03.27.2019 | Advocates for Children signed on to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Department of Commerce v. New York, challenging the proposed question on the 2020 census concerning citizenship status. The brief argues that including a citizenship question on the census will result in an undercount of immigrant communities. This undercount will result in the misallocation of education and community resource funding and harm students and their families. 

Read the amicus brief  [PDF
Read the news release [PDF]

03.27.2019 | Tonight, AFC is testifying before the Panel for Educational Policy in support of the City’s proposal to include $750 million to improve school accessibility in the 2020-2024 Capital Plan. That investment in accessibility, the City’s largest to date, will literally open doors to include and integrate individuals who are far too often excluded because of their accessibility needs. Read testimony [PDF]