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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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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]

first page of policy brief04.14.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief highlighting disparities in school attendance during the pandemic and calling on the City to invest in an ambitious Education Recovery Plan that ensures all students can receive the academic and social-emotional support they need as they return to school.

As required by Local Law 10 of 2021, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) recently posted disaggregated attendance data for the month of January, marking the first time this school year that such data has been publicly available. The new brief summarizes key takeaways from the data, which provide a snapshot of student engagement during remote and blended learning and make clear that COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on marginalized student populations. While absenteeism has risen across the board this year, attendance rates are strikingly low among students living in homeless shelters, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities, particularly at the high school level. In January 2021:

  • Students living in shelter had by far the lowest attendance rate of any student group: 75.7%, 14.1 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently-housed peers. Ninth, tenth, and twelfth graders in shelter had attendance rates of just 64-67%, meaning they missed around one out of every three school days. 
  • ELLs and students with disabilities in grade 10, along with ELL twelfth graders—roughly 30,000 students in all—missed approximately one out of every four school days.
  • The attendance rate for ELL tenth graders was 10.1 percentage points lower than the 2018-19 attendance rate for ELLs in tenth grade, a notably larger decline than for non-ELLs; students with disabilities also saw larger drops in attendance, relative to the 2018-19 school year, than their peers without disabilities.

“The latest attendance data should spur City Hall and the DOE to action,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “Tens of thousands of students are still struggling to access an education because of the pandemic or are at risk of disconnecting from school entirely. With the DOE poised to get billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funding, now is the time to put forward a comprehensive plan for an equitable recovery.”

AFC is recommending that the City’s plan for using its $7 billion in federal education COVID-19 funding include:

  • Investing in a corps of professionals, including bilingual staff and shelter-based staff, to focus on academic support, social-emotional support, and outreach to students and families. 
  • Engaging in intentional, proactive planning and outreach to ensure that the new Summer Rising program benefits all students—including students with disabilities, ELLs, and students experiencing homelessness—and provides the specialized supports these populations need.
  • Providing targeted academic and mental health supports; for example, one-on-one or small group tutoring, evidence-based literacy curricula, and staff such as social workers and behavior specialists who can provide direct services to students.
  • Investing in intensive, targeted outreach to re-engage students and families who are currently disconnected from school.
  • Providing make-up services and specialized support for students with disabilities and ELLs who did not receive their legally mandated instruction during the pandemic. 
  • Allowing 21-year-old students who would otherwise age out of school this year to attend Summer Rising and return to school next year so they can finish their diploma requirements or meet transition goals, particularly given the particularly low attendance rates for high school students. Just yesterday, the New York State Education Department issued a memo strongly encouraging districts to allow students aging out of school to attend summer school and, if needed, return to school for the 2021-2022 school year.


Read the policy brief [PDF]
View the press release as a 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]

02.01.2021 | Last week, a federal judge ordered that a Special Master be appointed over the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) implementation of hearing orders to provide or pay for services for students with disabilities.  

When the DOE fails to provide appropriate educational services or school placements to students with disabilities, their parents may request an impartial hearing to enforce their children’s rights.  Following the hearing, an impartial hearing officer can order the DOE to provide services to a student or pay the cost of services or school tuition, but for years the DOE has failed to implement these favorable hearing orders in a timely fashion. Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and Milbank LLP had filed the motion requesting the Special Master in connection with the class action lawsuit, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education, after years of the DOE failing to provide the ordered services that students with disabilities required.  For example, between October 24, 2018 and January 21, 2019, the DOE implemented only 19.6% of hearing orders within the required 35 days.

Families request hearings as a last resort, after the DOE has denied their children the services or school placements they need to learn.  Further delays in implementing these orders only exacerbate the harm to students with disabilities, many of whom have had to wait months to receive services they were awarded by an impartial hearing officer, and to their families, some of whom have waited up to a year to receive ordered reimbursement for services, causing financial hardship.  Sustained delays in payment and implementation have resulted in providers terminating services, schools barring enrollment, and students who must wait even longer without the services and instruction that they need.

“For too many years, students with disabilities have been harmed by the DOE’s failures in providing the services they need.  We are hopeful that the Special Master will improve the DOE’s implementation process so students will not have to wait any longer for ordered services,” said Rebecca Shore, AFC’s Director of Litigation.  

”The appointment of a special master is the latest step in our 14-year saga to force the DOE to fulfill their legal obligation to provide educational services to students with disabilities in a timely manner,” said Erik Wilson, an associate at Millbank.  “The DOE’s longstanding abdication of those responsibilities has caused immense harm to these students, their families, and the schools and providers of these services.  We hope that court-ordered improvements to DOE’s systems and processes—based on the recommendations of an independent expert special master—will finally bring DOE into compliance and provide much-needed relief to those who rely on DOE for providing such services.”

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

01.28.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying at the New York State Joint Legislative Hearing on the 2021-2022 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget proposal, urging legislators to increase, and not cut, state education funding and ensure schools can use their full COVID-19 relief funding to reopen schools and help students catch up. Read our testimony [PDF]