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01.15.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data brief, Delayed Interventions: Early Indicators of the Pandemic’s Impact on Infants and Toddlers, showing a steep decline during the COVID-19 pandemic in the number of infants and toddlers referred to the New York City Early Intervention (EI) program to address concerns about their development.  As a result, thousands of young children with developmental delays or disabilities missed the chance for intervention at the time it is most effective.

The first few years of life, when the brain is developing rapidly, offer a critical window of opportunity to intervene and maximize the positive impact of services like speech and physical therapy on a child’s development, and Early Intervention—part of the federal special education law—provides such services to zero-to-three-year-old children with developmental delays or disabilities. When COVID-19 closed child care programs, led parents to postpone routine visits to the pediatrician, and otherwise disrupted daily life for families with young children, this window slammed shut for thousands of infants and toddlers in New York City. The brief released today, which analyzes data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), shows that:

  • In late March and early April 2020, there was an 82% drop-off, compared to the beginning of the year, in the average number of children referred to EI each week due to concerns about their development.
  • An estimated 3,000–6,000 young children in New York City were never identified as potentially having a developmental delay or disability. Instead of being evaluated to determine their eligibility for the EI program and potentially receiving services to support their healthy development, these children have simply fallen off the radar—and thus may require more intensive, and expensive, special education services later on.
  • The total number of infants and toddlers receiving EI services between July and September 2020 was 15% lower than the same time period in 2019, a difference of nearly 2,900 children.

In addition, many children with developmental delays and disabilities who were receiving EI services prior to the pandemic stopped getting their legally mandated services after the City shut down in March, whether due to a lack of technology, because teletherapy proved ineffective, or because helping children under age 3 participate in remote services proved logistically impossible for some working parents.  According to phone surveys conducted by DOHMH, which runs the EI program, between April and mid-June, nearly one in four families (24%) were not receiving any of their EI services as of the time they were surveyed.

“Infants and toddlers cannot afford to wait for critically important Early Intervention services,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “The State and City need to take quick action to ensure young children with developmental delays and disabilities get the services they need right away.”

While the analysis focuses on data from New York City, statewide data show similar trends. Across New York State, 6,000 fewer children were enrolled in the EI program between July and September 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

The brief makes a number of recommendations to New York State and City for addressing the pandemic’s impact on the Early Intervention program, including:

  • Launching an outreach campaign to families and developing a comprehensive plan for developmental screenings to ensure young children are connected to services as soon as possible when a concern is identified;
  • Identifying and addressing barriers to participation in EI during the pandemic, including by providing access to technology needed for remote evaluations and services;
  • Providing make-up services to children who missed out on mandated therapies during the pandemic; and
  • Increasing funding in the State budget for Early Intervention and preschool special education, including by requiring health insurance companies to contribute more to the cost of EI, and preparing for a potential post-COVID surge in referrals.


View the press release [PDF]
Read the data brief [PDF]

12.16.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York testified before the City Council Committee on Education and Committee on Women and Gender Equity about the related issues of a shortage of preschool special education programs, and the problem of Learning Bridges child care programs excluding children with disabilities. Read our testimony [PDF]

12.03.2020 | Today, the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students (NYS-TEACHS), a project of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), posted new data showing that more than 111,000 New York City students—approximately one in ten children enrolled in district or charter schools—were identified as homeless during the 2019-20 school year. In the Bronx, approximately one in six students was homeless.

The data, which come from the New York State Education Department, show that more than 32,700 students were living in City shelters, while approximately 73,000 were ‘doubled-up’ in temporary shared housing situations. An additional roughly 31,900 public school students in New York State, outside of the five boroughs, were also identified as homeless last year, for a total of more than 143,500 students Statewide.

The number of New York City students experiencing homelessness has now topped 100,000—a population larger than the entire public school enrollment of the state of Vermont—for five consecutive years. While the 2019-20 count represents a decline of 2.2% from the prior school year, the closure of school buildings due to COVID-19 likely impeded schools’ ability to identify students experiencing homelessness, as the shift to remote learning made it less likely that schools would become aware of changes to students’ housing situations. 

“The vast scale of student homelessness in New York City demands urgent attention,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children. “If these children comprised their own city, it would be larger than Albany, and their numbers may skyrocket even further after the state eviction moratorium is lifted, The City must act now to put more support in place for students who are homeless.”

Even before the pandemic, students experiencing homelessness —85% of whom are Black or Hispanic—faced tremendous obstacles to success in school. Only 29% of those in grades 3-8 were reading proficiently in 2019, 20 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently housed peers. COVID-19 has further magnified these challenges. For many students who are homeless, school is a lifeline—the one place where they have a sense of stability and normalcy. Remote learning, in contrast, may mean trying to complete assignments on a smartphone in the middle of a noisy and overcrowded room. 

City Hall and the DOE must take action to better support these students, who are at risk of falling further behind.

  • The City must ensure that every student who is homeless has the technology needed to participate in remote learning. More than eight months after school buildings closed, some students living in City shelters are still struggling to get online because their shelter lacks both Wi-Fi and adequate cellular reception to use their DOE iPad, while others have not even received an iPad in the first place. The DOE must expedite iPad delivery, install Wi-Fi in shelters as quickly as possible, and expand tech support for students struggling to use their devices, including by providing on-site support at shelters. 
  • The City must use attendance data to reach out to all families of students who are homeless and especially those in shelter who have not been regularly engaging in remote learning and identify and resolve the barriers that are keeping them out of school. In the spring, students living in shelter had the lowest rate of participation in remote learning of any student subgroup—more than 13 percentage points below the Citywide rate.  
  • The City must ensure there is adequate staff to support the education of students who are homeless. Due to hiring freezes and budget cuts, the DOE has lost more than 20 staff members who focus on serving this population.  With more than 100,000 students experiencing homelessness, the City must immediately restore these positions and fully staff the team.
  • The City should offer full-time in-person instruction to all students who are homeless whose families want this option, given the immense challenges so many are continuing to experience with remote learning.
  • Given the months of lost learning time, the City must start planning to get students who are homeless back on track after the pandemic.


“Learning from home is much harder when you don’t have a permanent home,” said Kim Sweet. “The City must ensure that every student who is homeless has the technology and support they need during this period of remote and hybrid learning. And as the public health situation evolves, we need to prioritize offering these students the option of getting back into the classroom full-time and providing them with the help they need to make up for lost learning.”

Download the complete data
View news release as a PDF

11.24.2020 | Today, AFC is testifing before the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare on the City’s progress toward advancing the recommendations of the Interagency Foster Care Task Force, including the three recommendations focused specifically on education, and the need for DOE staff focused on the unique needs of this population. Read our testimony [PDF]

11.23.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (“AFC”) and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP filed a class action complaint in federal court against the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) and New York State Education Department (“NYSED”) on behalf of students with disabilities who have not received an appropriate education during the time of remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs are asking the Court to require the DOE to create a system to provide make-up educational services to address the resulting learning loss.

When schools closed their physical spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of students with disabilities in New York City were – and still are – unable to access appropriate services and programs during remote learning.  The loss in education and progress for these students becomes more pronounced every day that they do not receive all of the services mandated on their Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) in a way that is accessible and appropriate in consideration of each student’s disability.  For students with disabilities who are English Language or Multilingual Learners, or whose parents do not speak English, the challenges of accessing remote learning have been even more significant.

Chrystal Bell, one of the parents named as a plaintiff in the litigation, has a son who is deaf, blind, and non-verbal. As Ms. Bell explains, “My son cannot see, hear, or speak. How can he be expected to learn sitting in front of a computer all day, when he has no way to interact with his teachers or understand what they’re asking of him? My child just turned 21 and will now be considered too old to remain in his DOE high school. Without compensatory services, he will have lost more than a year of his education that he will never be able to get back.”

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), school districts must provide a free and appropriate education (“FAPE”) to all students with disabilities. When the school district fails to do so, the law requires that they must provide “compensatory services” to make up for the education and therapies that the student lost.  Although the widespread inability of the students to access their IEP-mandated services and program during remote learning has resulted in a denial of FAPE in violation of the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and New York Education Law, the DOE has not announced any plans — in the eight months since schools closed – to develop a system for identifying which students with disabilities require compensatory services, determining what services they need, and providing those services.

The complaint filed today asks that the DOE create an expedited and efficient process to provide make-up services for the instruction and services students with disabilities have lost during the period of remote learning, rather than requiring that each of the tens of thousands of parents of students with disabilities litigate individually to receive the services their children need and require.

Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC, explained, “Tens of thousands of students with disabilities have gone months without appropriate educational services, with many losing the progress they had made.  These students should receive the compensatory services they need as quickly as possible, without having to jump through cumbersome legal hurdles that will favor families able to afford lawyers and leave economically disadvantaged students behind.”

“We’re pleased to partner with AFC on this important class action, to attempt to rectify the disparities in education that students with disabilities have encountered in New York City due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Joshua Kipnees, Partner at Patterson Belknap. “City students with disabilities have been denied access to an appropriate education for the better part of a year, and we hope that today’s complaint brings justice and essential compensatory services to these students as quickly as possible.”

View the press release [PDF]
Read the class action complaint [PDF]

11.20.2020 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education’s hearing about the critical need for social-emotional and mental health support for students, and the City's commitment to remove police from schools and craft a new vision of school safety that ensures all students are truly safe and supported. Read our testimony [PDF]

10.23.2020 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education of NYC’s more than 200,000 students with disabilities, many of whom cannot engage in remote instruction or services independently and many of whom simply are not getting what they need to learn. Read our testimony [PDF]

10.16.2020 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education and Committee on Health regarding the reopening of City schools. As the City continues working on the health and safety measures needed to protect school communities from COVID-19 this year, the City must also redouble its outreach efforts and provide individualized support to families of students who are not regularly engaging in remote learning. Read our testimony [PDF]

09.16.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York joins 30 organizations in calling on Mayor de Blasio to address the urgent educational needs of students who are homeless as the school year begins.  We are urging the City to develop a coordinated interagency plan and designate a point person to work across agencies to ensure that every student who is homeless can participate in learning this year.

The urgent unresolved issues that the City must address include the following concerns:

Although the City is expecting students to learn remotely from two to five days per week, there are city shelters where no children have access to online learning due to lack of connectivity and other shelters where connectivity is limited.  While we appreciate that the City prioritized distributing iPads with free cellular data to students living in shelters, the iPads do not work in some shelters because they do not have adequate cellular reception or WiFi.

Under city policy, students under 18 cannot remain in shelter units without a parent, but there is no child care plan for days of remote learning when parents need to work.  While we are pleased that Learning Bridges will give priority to students who are homeless, among other groups of students, we understand the programs will have very limited capacity and that seats are open only to students through 8th grade.

Many families in shelter have not yet received information about bus service despite the legal obligation to provide transportation to students who are homeless.

Although the City oversees the shelters where thousands of students live, the City has done little work to address the barriers that students and families who are homeless faced in accessing remote learning in the spring, and shelter providers have not received the resources or information needed to effectively support students in accessing education.

We are confident these issues are solvable if only the City would task someone with working across agencies to tackle them. Over the past six years, this Administration has brought increased attention and resources to improving the education of students who are homeless. At a time when students who are homeless have already experienced significant learning loss and trauma, please do not leave these students behind. 

Read the letter [PDF]

09.01.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement delaying the first day of school: 

With so many unanswered questions about the reopening of school buildings, the City needs to use this additional time to develop robust plans for supporting students in the year ahead, particularly the students with the greatest needs. Remote learning was disastrous for many students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and students experiencing homelessness this past spring; given that all students will continue to learn remotely at least some of the time for the foreseeable future, the DOE must develop and implement strategies to improve online instruction. Also, the transition to a hybrid model poses a slew of new challenges that have yet to be addressed. For example:

  • Approximately 50,000 students with disabilities, along with students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care, have a legal right to transportation, but the City has still not finalized any bus contracts. Families of these students need to know how their children will get to school, and many cannot front the cost of transportation or send their children alone on the subway if busing is not in place by the first day of class.
  • The City must ensure all students have the technology they need; distributing iPads is just the first step. Some family shelters, for example, have no WiFi and limited-to-nonexistent cellular reception, making it difficult for students in shelter to actually use those iPads to participate in remote learning.
  • The City must improve communication with families and ensure parents receive information in a language they can understand. When schools closed in March, many immigrant families and others were left in the dark. Parents cannot be expected to supervise and support their children’s remote instruction unless they have two-way communication with their schools.
  • Ensuring all students receive the support they need to learn under a blended model must be a top priority. It remains unclear how schools will staff integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes, schedule related service sessions, and otherwise ensure all students with disabilities receive their mandated special education instruction and services when they are only in the building 1-3 days per week. Similarly, the DOE has not put forward a meaningful plan for supporting English Language Learners, many of whom struggle to make progress in the absence of in-person supports, or a plan for connecting students with mental health services.


Read the statement
[PDF]