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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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AFC's History: A Brief Chronology

Pioneers for Education Reform, 1969-1979

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.


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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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

photo of colored chalk with overlaid text that reads "back to school 2021"

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 Chinese), which we will continue to update as we learn more.

 Live Back to School 2021 Updates

➞ Special Education Recovery Services

All families of students with disabilities should have received a letter [PDF] about Special Education Recovery Services. Special Education Recovery Services are specialized instruction and related services, targeted to a student's individual needs, to help address the learning disruptions experienced during the pandemic. These services will be provided in an after-school and/or Saturday program in addition to the supports and services a student gets during the regular school day. Parents should not need to take any action to start the process; schools will be reaching out between now and mid-November to discuss the plan for their child. Accepting Recovery Services does NOT waive a student’s right to other services, including compensatory services. More information is available on the DOE's website.

➞ 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.

  • Medical exemptions for masking: All students, except those with medical exemptions, are required to wear a mask in school. Schools must provide support to all students who have difficulty wearing a mask, and give extra support to students with disabilities. All students must be permitted to remove their mask when eating and drinking and can request mask breaks for up to 5 minutes at a time. If your student struggles with wearing a mask, let the school know! Ask for mask breaks and specific supports, such as school social worker assistance or a positive behavior plan. We urge schools not to remove students from class or school for not wearing a mask. Parents should call our Helpline or send us a message with any questions or to report any issues.

  • Quarantine protocols: The DOE is following CDC guidelines to determine who is considered a "close contact" and needs to quarantine following a positive case. In general, the DOE is no longer closing entire classrooms. Schools will be closed only when it is determined by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) that there is widespread transmission in the school. For more information, see the DOE's Health & Safety webpage and Gothamist's helpful Q&A.

➞ 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.

Prepaid transportation available for families who have not received busing service: The DOE will arrange rides via LimoSys (an app-based ride service) for students who have IEPs that recommend busing, but who have not yet been routed or who are waiting for a nurse or bus paraprofessional to be assigned to ride with them, as well as for students living in shelter who are supposed to take the bus to school but do not yet have a route. Eligible families should reach out to their child's school and ask them to submit a LimoSys request to the DOE. Students living in shelter should speak with their Students in Temporary Housing Regional Manager.

➞ 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