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William JesinkeyWilliam (Bill) Jesinkey, the founding Executive Director of Advocates for Children and a leader in special education in New York City, died on December 25, 2014, at the age of 80. Bill was a brilliant and imaginative thinker and practical doer, who throughout his career was able to bring people and groups together and use untapped resources to create outstanding educational programs and services for the City’s neediest students.

Bill grew up in South Brooklyn, graduated from Manhattan College, and received a Masters degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. In 1960, he became a teacher in the City’s public school system, working in the “600 schools,” which at the time warehoused students—almost entirely Black and Latino boys—who were thrown out of other schools because of behavior problems. Bill found that most of the kids he worked with had emotional and other disabilities that interfered with their learning, but despite state and federal laws mandating and funding services for students with disabilities, they were not even considered for appropriate educational services.

In the early 1970s, based on his unique experience and knowledge, and using his leadership and organizing skills, Bill undertook a campaign to challenge what he saw as the denial of students’ educational rights. He brought together concerned groups and individuals to pool resources and obtain foundation and public funding to create the organization that became Advocates for Children. The mission of the organization—which guides AFC to this day—was to provide educational advocacy for individual kids and families and, based on issues emerging from its cases, work for systemic public education reform through research, organizing, administrative negotiation, and impact litigation. Bill’s influential “Lost Children” report, documenting the school system’s failure to provide appropriate educational services to the most disadvantaged students, was AFC’s first publication.

In parallel effort, Bill formed a partnership with a group of Christian Brothers in Queens who were working in parochial schools and were frustrated by their inability to help the young people in their community. Together they established the Martin de Porres School, an exemplary special education school for children and youth with emotional disabilities. The school remains in existence today, along with a related, independent program, the Martin de Porres Group Homes, which serves students who need residential care.

Bill was committed to public education, and once AFC and Martin de Porres were firmly established, he returned to the school system, working as a special educator. In 1983, he was appointed by the Chancellor of the City’s public schools as Superintendent of the Division of Special Education. As Superintendent, Bill worked tirelessly to create and provide quality educational programs and services to students with severe disabilities and to persuade principals across the system to consider these kids as their children.

After he retired from the school system, Bill continued to apply his leadership and knowledge to special and public education projects. He maintained his relationship with AFC throughout his life, and his selfless, passionate efforts resulted in quality educational services for thousands of students. He was an inspirational mentor who leaves a wonderful legacy in the countless teachers and advocates he influenced. Bill’s obituary card aptly quoted the statement of Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

By Jane Stern, former Executive Director of AFC, and Richard Sexton, former AFC Board Member.

04.24.2015 | The ARISE Coalition (which is coordinated by Advocates for Children), is launching a campaign to improve literacy instruction for students with disabilities. See our Call to Action [PDF] (also available in Spanish [PDF] and Chinese [PDF]) for more details, and visit the Coalition's page to send a letter to Chancellor Fariña (a copy of the letter to the Chancellor is also available in Spanish [PDF]). On the evening of May 18, ARISE will be sponsoring a panel and parent speak out on literacy instruction for students with disabilities. Download a larger, PDF version of the flyer in English and Spanish.

event flyer

04.22.2015 | Families with children born in 2011 may apply to Pre-K by Friday, April 24th. To apply to full-day Pre-K for All programs at public schools and New York City Early Education Centers (community-based organizations), you should use the Department of Education’s centralized application form. You can list up to 12 Pre-K for All programs on your application and should list programs in order of your true preference. There are three ways to apply: 

  1. Apply online at until midnight on 4/24; or 
  2. Visit a Family Welcome Center in person, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., until 3 p.m. on 4/24; or 
  3. Call (718) 935-2067, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., until 6 p.m. on 4/24. 

The application is available online in ten languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. The DOE will also provide interpreters in more than 200 languages to help families who apply in person at a Family Welcome Center or over the phone.

You can use the Pre-K Finder on your computer or mobile device to help you find nearby Pre-K programs. If you would like assistance in finding Pre-K programs, you can also complete the form on the Pre-K Finder (“I would like a call about Pre-K”) to receive a call from the DOE.

To learn about the Pre-K options and admissions priorities, you should review the Pre-K Directory. Directories are available in ten languages.

Dual Language Learners
All families with children born in 2011 may apply to Pre-K programs. The DOE directory updates state which public schools offer Dual Language Pre-K for All programs. If you wish to apply to a Dual Language program, you must list the specific Dual Language program on your application. The DOE directory updates also indicate which NYC Early Education Centers offer Enhanced Language Instruction (ELI) programming in a language other than English. An ELI program may offer books in the target language and a staff member who speaks the target language.

Students with Disabilities
All families with children born in 2011 may apply to Pre-K programs. Preschool students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that recommend Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) services or related services only can receive these recommended services at the Pre-K program site. Preschool students whose IEPs recommend a half-day special class or half-day special class in an integrated setting may participate in a Pre-K class for the rest of the day. For more information about preschool special education services, see AFC’s Guide to Preschool Special Education in English [PDF] or Spanish [PDF].

04.14.2015 | Today AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety, the Committee on Education, and the Sub-Committee on Non-Public Schools regarding school climate and discipline. AFC supports the passage of both Introduction Number 730, amending the Student Safety Act, and Introduction Number 719, requiring the DOE to report on the ratio of School Safety Officers (“SSOs”) to Guidance Counselors in each school. View testimony [PDF]

03.30.2015 | Today, AFC submitted testimony to the City Council Education Committee on resolutions regarding school funding, the charter school cap, and parents’ ability to opt out of standardized tests. View testimony [PDF]

03.25.2015 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Education Committee about the education proposals in the Fiscal Year 2016 Preliminary Budget. We are heartened that the Preliminary Budget includes increased funding for a literacy initiative to support students with disabilities, interpretation services for immigrant families, behavioral supports, and Pre-K. However, more funding is needed to have a significant impact. View AFC's testimony [PDF

The ARISE Coalition, which is coordinated by AFC, is also testifying at today's hearing, urging the Council to fund the proposed literacy initiative as a down payment on what we hope will be a longer-term commitment to ensuring that every student in NYC learns to read proficiently. View the ARISE Coalition's testimony [PDF]

03.09.2015 | On March 24, AFC's Junior Board and NYU Law School's Education Law and Policy Society will hold a panel discussing the experiences of undocumented young people, particularly those who arrived recently, as they enter the City and try to access their right to a public education. RSVP by March 17


03.05.2015 | Families wanting to apply to charter schools for the 2015-16 school year must submit their applications by April 1st. Here are 7 things you should know about the charter school admissions process.

  1. Families have to apply to any charter school that they want their children to attend. Schools must provide applications to parents upon request. Some schools post applications online. The New York City Charter School Center has a common application on its website that many schools use. You can find the application here.
  2. Charter schools must make the application available in languages predominately spoken in the community in which the charter school is located.
  3. After the deadline, charter schools must conduct a lottery to randomly select students for admission. Schools must publicize the date, time and location of the lottery, but parents are NOT required to be present at the lottery to win admission to the charter school. Families are not required to indicate that their child has an IEP or is an English Language Learner (ELL) on the application but may want to do so if the school gives an enrollment preference to students with disabilities and/or ELLs in the lottery. Schools must give an enrollment preference to students living in the community school district where the school is located and to siblings of current students at the school. However, these students are NOT guaranteed a seat at the charter school.

  4. If a student is selected in the lottery, the charter school will have a deadline by which the parent(s) must accept the seat. Therefore, families are encouraged to visit and research schools before April 1st, if possible.

  5. Families can research schools by reviewing school quality reports, visiting, and visiting the NYC Charter School Center’s data webpage. In addition, parents are encouraged to attend open houses, speak with school staff, and request a copy of the charter school’s family handbook.

  6. Charter schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of intellectual ability, standardized test scores or grades, disability, race, gender (same-sex schools are allowed), national origin, or religion, among other things. Charter schools must accept students with disabilities and ELLs. Parents are encouraged to ask schools about services and programs for these students.

  7. More information about the charter school admissions process, including sample questions [PDF] to ask charter school staff, is available on the charter schools page of our website.

03.03.2015 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Education Committee about the problem of overcrowding in schools and about the charter school cap. We believe it is premature to raise the cap on the number of charter schools before putting laws and practices in place that protect students’ civil rights in the context of school discipline and ensure that charter schools serve high-needs populations. View testimony [PDF]

03.02.2015 | Today AFC will be testifying at the DOE Office of Safety and Youth Development hearing on the draft school discipline code for 2014-2015. AFC is a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign New York (DSC-NY) and supports DSC’s goals of mandating guidance interventions prior to resorting to suspensions, expanding staff trainings that promote positive school environments, and eliminating suspensions for B21—“Defying or Disobeying Authority.” Our testimony focuses on the DOE’s revision to Infraction Code B21 and the importance of addressing the behavioral needs of Pre-K students. View testimony [PDF]