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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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News & Media

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05.01.2012 | AFC testified before the New York City Council Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services and the Committee on Education regarding the negative consequences that the city-wide shortage of school-based mental health services has on schools and their students. Read testimony [PDF]

4.19.2012 | Luisa Piñeiro Fuentes was an educator in the New York City public schools for 38 years, and served as principal at PS/MS 279 and PS 307. She fought constantly to establish a safe and loving environment in her schools, and to secure the necessary resources for any child in her community who was in need.

luisa pineiro fuentes     luisa pineiro fuentes

AFC is incredibly proud and honored that Ms. Fuentes' family and friends have selected AFC as the recipient of donations made in her memory in recognition of our shared mission “to protect every child’s right to learn.” Click here to learn more about Ms. Fuentes and to make a donation in her honor.

04.17.2012 | AFC Executive Director, Kim Sweet, is a member of the New York City Working Group on School Transformation, which released a report calling on the city’s Department of Education to support low-performing schools, rather than simply closing them. The Working Group, initiated by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice and coordinated by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, grew out of a 2011 conference that presented successful alternatives to school closings. Read the report [PDF]

04.16.2012 | Mayor Bloomberg’s Preliminary Budget would cut 47,000 children from early childhood education and after-school programs.  To see what you can do to oppose these cuts, and to get an update on Early Intervention in the final state budget, please see our action alert [PDF].

03.29.2012 | AFC testified before the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare in opposition to the shortsighted, massive cuts to early childhood education programs proposed in Mayor Bloomberg’s Preliminary Budget. Read testimony [PDF]

03.09.2012 | Research demonstrates that the stimulation and interaction a child receives during the first five years of life are critical to permanent brain development. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Early Intervention (EI) program provides evaluations and services to infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities. These services can help infants and toddlers at the time when they can make the biggest difference.

Governor Cuomo’s 2012-2013 Executive Budget proposal would restructure EI, giving health insurance companies an unprecedented role in the program. AFC is urging state legislators to protect access to high-quality EI services and ensure that EI services are driven by children’s needs, not by their health insurance coverage.

Read a letter [PDF] from AFC expressing our concerns regarding this proposal.

Learn more about what you can do to take action [PDF].

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.”

AFC's History: A Brief Chronology

Pioneers for Education Reform, 1969-1979

1969–1970
A group of parents and community activists come together to form Queens Lay Advocate Service (QLAS). This volunteer organization provides trainings on the legal rights of students and assists families with school-related problems, particularly inappropriate suspensions. QLAS partners with local anti-poverty organizations such as the Education Action Center.

1971
Alternative Solutions for Exceptional Children (ASFEC) is created to improve education and support services for young people with disabilities.

1972–1973
ASFEC starts the Martin de Porres Day Treatment Program and Group Home for low-income children labeled emotionally disturbed to provide an appropriate education and related services to address their special needs. The school continues to serve these children today.

1973–1975
A formal consortium develops among QLAS, the Education Action Center, and ASFEC. Together they publish “Lost Children,” documenting the discriminatory education and support services provided to poor children of color with disabilities in New York City. A second study reveals that 50% of New York City students entering high school never graduate and that the drop outs are mainly poor youth of color who were either excluded from school or whose educational needs were never addressed.

1976
QLAS legally merges with ASFEC, and the organization adopts the name Advocates for Children of New York (AFC).

1978
AFC launches a Special Education Unit and expands its advocacy staff to include counselors, attorneys, researchers, and trainers. Through this unit and its progeny, AFC has secured education and support services for over half a million students.

1979
AFC co-counsels the landmark case Jose P. v. Ambach to correct the process by which students awaiting special education evaluation and placement are considered. The resulting Jose P. consent decree has been in effect in New York City for more than 30 years and continues to have a profound impact on New York City schools.

AFC is co-counsel in Boe v. Board of Ed., documenting improper suspension of disadvantaged students and providing relief through remedial counseling and vocational programs.

1980-1999

1982
AFC establishes the Parents' Coalition for Education, a citywide alliance of parents striving for school-based and systemic reforms to benefit public school children.

1984–1985
AFC organizes and conducts a public conference, Our Children at Risk: The Crisis in Public Education [PDF]. The resulting findings and report are disseminated nationwide.

1986
AFC conducts hearings on the status of immigrant children in the New York City schools.

1989
AFC wins its first in a continuing succession of federal parent center grants to train service providers and parents of children with disabilities to advocate for and protect the educational rights of these children.

1992
AFC publishes Segregated and Second Rate: Special Education in New York [PDF], continuing to document and verify the over-segregation of children and youth with disabilities receiving special education services.

1994
AFC joins co-counsel to bring Ray M. v. NYC Board of Education and NYS Department of Education on behalf of parents of preschool children with disabilities who have been denied their rights to an appropriate education under both federal and state law. The case settles in 1999, bringing relief to over 25,000 preschool children with disabilities.

1995
AFC is chosen as the New York partner for the nationwide “Mobilization for Equity and Excellence Project” and promotes reform in low-performing schools through intensive bilingual training seminars to ensure parents know their rights.

1996
AFC partners with the New York Immigration Coalition on the “Transforming Education for New York’s Newest” project, in order to address educational issues facing immigrant families.

1999
AFC helps create and house the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Coalition, dedicated to advocating on behalf of children with disabilities and their families.

2000-2021

2000
AFC releases Educational Neglect: The Delivery of Education Services to Children in New York City’s Foster Care System [PDF], which concludes that thousands of children in the City's foster care system are being denied basic educational services. The report, the first to document comprehensively the widespread lack of proper educational services for this population, has national implications.

AFC starts its Public Information Center to help parents navigate the New York City public school system. AFC launches the website that later becomes InsideSchools.org, distilling data on school achievement into a parent-friendly format and providing qualitative reviews of school programs.

2002–2003
AFC, in conjunction with the Public Advocate, releases Pushing Out At-Risk Students: An Analysis of High School Discharge Figures [PDF], exposing the problem of illegal discharge from NYC schools. This report and the trilogy of cases that AFC filed after it set off a firestorm around illegal school push outs and lead to important policy changes at the Department of Education.

2004
AFC and co-counsel file J.G. v. Mills, on behalf of court-involved youth who were being denied timely re-enrollment to school upon release from a court-ordered setting.

2005
AFC and co-counsel file L.V. v. Department of Education on behalf of parents of children with disabilities who had received favorable orders and settlements in impartial hearings that were not being fully and timely enforced.

AFC makes its education advocacy skills and expertise available to select grantees of the Robin Hood Foundation in order to help them build capacity to address their clients’ education-related needs.

AFC is selected to be home to the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students (NYS-TEACHS) to provide training and support for school districts throughout the state to improve education for children and youth in temporary housing. Today, AFC’s Project LIT partners with shelters to improve education outcomes for students experiencing homelessness.

2007
AFC receives City Council funding to expand and enhance its Education Helpline in memory of Jill Chaifetz, the organization’s late executive director and a beloved NYC education advocate. AFC’s Jill Chaifetz Education Helpline continues to be a critical resource for thousands of NYC families every year. 

AFC forms a coalition of families, education organizations, and advocacy groups across New York State to demand that the State address excessive use of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) diploma, which was not a valid high school diploma and was being used to push students with disabilities out of school prematurely. The group later expands its focus to look at graduation requirements and diploma options more broadly, becoming the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma.  

2008
AFC brings together a diverse group of parents, advocates and educators to form the ARISE Coalition, ARISE Coalition, a powerful and united voice in support of students with disabilities in New York City. The group continues to work to compel systemic reform to improve special education and assure more positive outcomes and options for all student.

2013
AFC partners with Judge Judith Kaye and the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children to convene the School Justice Partnership Task Force, producing recommendations [PDF] for NYC's mayor to keep kids in school and out of the courts. The Task Force became a model for school justice reform in other cities and states. 

2018
Starting in 2018, AFC publishes annual data on the number of students experiencing homelessness each year in NYC to draw much-needed attention to the unique educational needs of this vast group of students. For six consecutive years, AFC’s data has shown that more than 100,000 New York City students experience homelessness each year.

2019
AFC brings together 16 child welfare agencies in NYC to form an Education Collaborative, a unique partnership that strengthens education advocacy for students in foster care. The Education Collaborative builds the capacity of a community of practitioners to do education advocacy for the families and students they serve, greatly expanding access to this service for students in need while funneling more complex individual cases to our experienced attorneys and advocates.

2020
AFC transitions quickly to virtual operations in March 2020, advocating for access to remote instruction for low-income families and providing training and information to tens of thousands of parents and service providers to help them navigate a constantly changing school system during the pandemic. Our advocacy on dozens of key issues during the pandemic led to more than 25 concrete policy changes.

2021
AFC works with the DOE and the ARISE Coalition to co-host a Literacy Summit that draws attention to literacy as an equity issue and helps galvanize support for improving instruction. Learn more about AFC’s work on literacy