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Paige’s Story

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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Note: The following resources are all in PDF format and will open in a new window. To view PDF files, download the following free software: Get Adobe® Reader®. If you are unable to access PDFs, please call our Helpline (866-427-6033) or email info@afcnyc.org, and we will be happy to provide the information in an alternative format.

Policy Work

cover of Turning the Page reportTurning the Page on Literacy Instruction in NYC Schools: Recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget
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, 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 part of its $7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding in a comprehensive effort to revamp the way it provides reading instruction to all students and targeted interventions to students who need extra support.

"A is for All" report coverA is for All: Meeting the Literacy Needs of Students with and without Disabilities in the New York City Public Schools
In March 2016, AFC released this report documenting the need for urgent and sustained action to address the particularly low literacy levels for low-income students with disabilities. The report discusses the key elements for teaching reading effectively to all students, reviews research and case stories indicating that students with a wide range of disabilities are capable of learning to read if they receive appropriate instruction, highlights a number of promising programs in New York City, and provides recommendations for implementing systemic and lasting change.

Guides & Resources for Families

first page of literacy q&a fact sheetfirst page of newsletterfirst page of reading milestones fact sheet

Questions & Answers about Literacy and Dyslexia 
En Español: Preguntas y Respuestas sobre la Alfabetización y la Dislexia 
This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions and explains how to get help if your child is struggling to learn to read. 

Reading Milestones: What your child should know and be able to do
This fact sheet describes what your child should be learning during each of their first few years of school in order to become a successful reader. It also lists common warning signs of future difficulty or disability.

Literacy and Parent-Teacher Conferences
En Español: Reuniones de padres y maestros: Preguntas para los maestros acerca de qué tan bien su hijo o hija está aprendiendo a leer o escribir 
This fact sheet provides suggestions for questions to ask your child’s teachers about how well they're learning to read and write. 

The Advocate: Special Edition on Literacy 
The Winter 2019 issue of AFC's newsletter for parents and professionals, The Advocate, was a special edition dedicated to literacy! Highlights include answers to frequently asked questions about reading instruction, phonics, and Orton-Gillingham; fact versus fiction when it comes to dyslexia; and much more. 

Click on the links below to learn more about each of AFC's advocacy priorities for the fiscal year 2021 City budget. 

Preschool special education classes [PDF]
While the City has added hundreds of seats in preschool special classes over the past year, too many preschoolers are waiting for the DOE to provide them with the preschool special class seats to which they are legally entitled. The City must allocate sufficient funding to provide a preschool special class seat—in district schools, Pre-K Centers, or community-based organizations (CBOs)—for every child who needs one. In addition, the City must extent salary parity to teachers of DOE-contracted preschool special education classes. Preschool special education programs already have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, who can earn far higher compensation in district schools, and without ensuring salary parity for this group of teachers, the City runs the risk that this talent will leave CBO preschool special classes in pursuit of higher salaries at public schools and CBO EarlyLearn/3-K/Pre-K classes—thereby exacerbating the troubling shortage of preschool special class seats. 

Support for students in foster care [PDF]
Approximately 6,000 NYC students are in foster care each year. For students who have been separated from their families and placed in foster homes, school has the potential to be an important source of stability. However, the DOE has long overlooked the needs of students in foster care, even though they are among the most likely to repeat a grade, be suspended, need special education services, and leave high school without a diploma. We recommend that the FY 2021 budget include and baseline funding to establish a small Department of Education office focused on supporting students in foster care. The budget should also include sufficient funds for the City to abide by federal and state law and guarantee bus service or a comparable mode of transportation so students in foster care do not have to switch schools.

Transfer school programs for recently arrived immigrant ELLs, ages 16-21 [PDF]
We urge the City to take steps to address the consistently low graduation rates and high dropout rates of the City’s English Language Learners (ELLs). Recently arrived immigrant students ages 16-21 and Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) are particularly vulnerable, as few DOE schools can serve and support them through graduation. According to a recent data analysis conducted by the Migration Policy Institute, New York City is home to over 4,200 high school-age immigrant youth who do not have a high school diploma but are not enrolled in school. The DOE’s “ELL Transfer Schools” are among the rare schools in the City that can provide a supportive learning environment for under-credited and over-age recently arrived immigrant students. Unfortunately, there are only five such schools, four of which are located in Manhattan, making it difficult for students in other boroughs to attend. To address the geographic limitations of the City’s ELL transfer schools and increase existing non-ELL transfer schools’ capacity to serve recently arrived immigrant youth, the City should allocate funding to pilot programs to support ELLs, ages 16–21, at existing transfer schools in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. 

Strategic school climate investments [PDF
Black students—who comprise around a quarter of the New York City public school population—received more than half (52%) of all superintendent’s suspensions in the 2018-19 school year. In addition, each year, thousands of students with significant emotional, behavioral, and mental health disabilities continue to be removed from class by uniformed police officers and School Safety Agents and taken away from school by Emergency Medical Services when medically unnecessary. Many of these students are not getting the targeted, trauma-informed, and restorative supports, interventions, and services they need in school and, instead, are further traumatized by a law enforcement response to their mental health needs. In the FY 2021 budget, it is crucial that the City make strategic investments in: (a) a Mental Health Continuum to provide a range of direct services to students with significant mental health needs in high-needs schools, partnered with a hospital-based clinic; and (b) funding for the DOE to sustainably and effectively expand Restorative Justice programs citywide. 

Support for students living in shelters [PDF
In 2018-19, more than 114,000 City students experienced homelessness. More than 34,000 of these students spent time in shelters. While the City has placed 100 “Bridging the Gap” social workers and more than 100 Students in Temporary Housing Community Coordinators in schools with high numbers of students who are homeless, about 25,000 children in shelter attend schools without a Bridging the Gap social worker or Community Coordinator. Furthermore, as the number of family shelters and commercial hotels has grown, the number of shelter-based DOE staff has not kept pace, meaning that some students and families have no DOE support at their shelter at all. In the FY 2021 budget, the City should include and baseline funding for at least 50 DOE Students in Temporary Housing Community Coordinators to work in shelters to focus on meeting the educational needs of students who are homeless, as well as three managers to supervise and support the work of the Community Coordinators.

Jane Stern, a founding member, former Executive Director, and steadfast friend of Advocates for Children of New York, died on October 25, 2019 at the age of 86. Jane was a tireless advocate for social justice in New York City, who dedicated her entire legal and professional career to serving the public interest.

A life-long New Yorker with a foundational belief in public service and advocacy, Jane grew up in the Village, the daughter of a psychiatric social worker and a lawyer. Jane attended Radcliffe College and Yale Law School before beginning her work as an attorney at South Brooklyn Legal Services. Through her work in legal services and as the president of her children's PTA board during the teachers' strike of 1968, Jane quickly became a staunch advocate for the equal treatment and educational rights of all New York City students.

Her advocacy led her to join with a group of individuals and organizations who were working to pool resources and establish the fledgling roots of what would grow to become Advocates for Children. The group’s mission, which guides AFC’s work to this day, was to provide education advocacy for families of students with disabilities who were being denied the education rights guaranteed to them by state and federal laws. Jane, the lone staff attorney at the group’s founding, provided education advocacy for individual students and families and drove systemic reform through research, organizing, and impact litigation. Along with her good friend and colleague Bill Jesinkey, AFC’s founding Executive Director, Jane researched and published the widely influential “Lost Children” report, which documented the systemic failures of New York City public schools to provide appropriate educational services to the most disadvantaged students.

A pragmatic, solutions-oriented leader, Jane was as focused on effecting real change on the ground as she was in the large-scale battles of policy and ideals. Jane believed strongly in identifying problems and finding ways to solve them, and the pride she took in AFC’s work was core to her identity. When she left the organization to work with The New York Community Trust, she remained a respected mentor to the executive directors who followed. Even in her retirement, she continued to support AFC’s work.

“AFC would not be here today if not for Jane Stern’s dedicated leadership and her decades of stewardship, advocacy, and support,” said Kim Sweet, Advocates for Children’s Executive Director. “We will miss her.”

Back to School 2021

Stay up-to-date on the most recent NYC schools updates by subscribing to AFC's weekly Blackboard Bulletin. Want to see what you've missed? Catch up on some of our most recent issues below:

Refer to our Start of School Year 2021-22 Fact Sheet for Families of Students with Disabilities (also available in Spanish and Chinesewhich we will continue to update as we learn more.

 Live Back to School 2021 Updates

➞ Remote Learning Options for NYC Families

The DOE has said all public school this year will be in person. If you have concerns about that and don’t want to send your child to school in person, you may have options depending on your child’s needs:

  • Home Instruction: Some children have the right to receive home instruction — 1 or 2 hours a day of instruction depending on the student's grade level — if they have a health issue that keeps them from being able to attend school in person. Because of the pandemic, the DOE is making medically necessary home instruction available to more students than in the past. That instruction can include individual in-person instruction by a certified teacher and small group instruction by certified teachers through digital platforms. The DOE has released a list of medical conditions that will automatically qualify a student for home instruction and families whose children have one of those conditions or need home instruction for other reasons can apply. For more information on how to do so, see the DOE’s Family Homecoming 2021 Health and Safety Guide. The Home Instructor will not be the same teacher your child would have if they were in-person in school. For details, see www.homeinstructionschools.com.

  • Home Schooling: Home schooling is when you withdraw your child from public school and you, or you and a group of other families, teach your children yourselves from home or some place that isn’t the school building. There are state requirements for home schooling and there is no financial assistance for this. Parents must apply to be allowed to home school and explain how they will keep their child on track academically. There are private programs that sell curricula for parents to use at home.

  • Private remote school: Some families will pay for online school. This is something the family must arrange and the family will need to pay their student’s tuition. It is possible to ask for related services to be provided through an Individualized Education Services Plan (IESP), but if you’re asking now, it will take a while to put in place. Those services may be provided through Related Services Authorizations (RSAs) or at schools.

➞ Health & Safety Protocols

  • Vaccinations and testing: All DOE employees (including teachers, staff, school safety agents, and Pre-K staff) are required to be vaccinated. All employees in public schools, including charter schools and pre-k staff who work for community organizations, must receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of September. Bus drivers and attendants must be vaccinated or provide weekly proof of negative COVID tests. There will also be weekly COVID testing for 10% of those students whose families have given consent.

  • Masking and social distancing: Under guidance from the Center for Disease Control and the State’s Education Department, students and staff in school should be 3 feet apart, with a few exceptions. For example, during lunch when students can take their masks off, they will be expected to sit 6 feet apart. Everyone in school should wear a mask. If your child can’t wear a mask for health reasons (i.e. drooling, breathing issues, unable to tolerate it/sensory issues), get a letter from your doctor and provide it to the school now. School buses are supposed to keep windows open if weather permits. There is no social distancing requirement on buses. Masks are required unless your child can’t wear one.

  • Quarantine protocols for students in elementary school: If they have been exposed to an adult in the classroom, the whole class will have to quarantine and will receive full-time live online instruction during that time. 

  • Quarantine protocols for students in middle and high school: Schools will no longer close an entire classroom when there is a positive case. If your child is vaccinated and not showing symptoms, they can stay in school even after an exposure. If your child is not vaccinated, but they have been masked and keeping a distance of 3 feet from other infected students, they will still be allowed in school. Regardless of distance and masks, if the infected person is an adult from the classroom, all unvaccinated students will have to learn from home during a quarantine period. Middle and high school students will have access to remote learning through “Office Hours,” when they can join 1:1 or small groups online, ask questions about their academics, and get more intensive instruction. More information is available in the DOE’s Health and Safety Guide.

➞ Transportation

All families should have been notified about their bus routes the week prior to the begining of school through their NYC Schools Account, where you can log in to check your child’s bus status. Bus companies should also be calling to confirm bus routes. If you need help setting up or accessing a NYC Schools Account, reach out to your child's school.

If your child requires specialized busing, it should have been in place before the start of the school year. That is true whether your child attends a public school, a charter school, or a non-public special education program – as long as their IEP calls for specialized busing to and from school. 

To report any complaints with busing issues, call OPT at (718) 392-8855 or visit schools.nyc.gov/school-life/transportation/contact-information. You can also contact your child's school and ask to speak with the Transportation Coordinator.

If your child’s IEP includes specialized transportation, information about their bus route and confirmation of any medical accommodations and special equipment needs (if any) listed on your child’s IEP should be available through your child’s NYC Schools Account (NYCSA). If you don’t have an NYCSA, reach out to your child’s school or a Family Welcome Center to register for one or visit MyStudent.nyc.

➞ Students Aged 21 or older

Students who turned 21 during the 2021-22 school year can return to their high school this Fall, or enroll in a transfer school or YABC. Learn more on the DOE's website, and email agingout@afcnyc.org with any questions. 

➞ Enrollment

Family Welcome Centers (FWC) are DOE offices that help families with enrollment and admissions issues, including newly arrived immigrants who need to enroll in school. Currently, FWCs are speaking with families Monday through Friday over email, phone or video conference. To make an appointment with FWC staff, call (718) 935-2828. More information about FWCs is available on the DOE's website. Questions can also be emailed directly to your borough's Welcome Center address:

Bronx: bronxfwc@schools.nyc.gov
Brooklyn: brooklynfwc@schools.nyc.gov
Manhattan: manhattanfwc@schools.nyc.gov
Queens: queensfwc@schools.nyc.gov
Staten Island: statenislandfwc@schools.nyc.gov