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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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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]

08.31.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children and Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) shared recommendations with Chancellor Carranza for a developing reopening plans are trauma-informed, culturally-responsive, grounded in restorative practices, and geared towards developing healing-centered school communities. The 2019-2020 school year presented historic challenges to the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) and the 2020-2021 school year is presenting similar, if not greater, challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, amplified by systemic racism, has disproportionately harmed historically marginalized groups within the DOE community. As school community members face incalculable hardship, fostering a healthy and safe school climate for all students in every learning setting is of the utmost importance.

Read the letter [PDF]

Special Education Recommendations cover image

08.18.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York released a set of essential recommendations for New York City’s school reopening plan, urging the Department of Education (DOE) to ensure that students with disabilities have the support they need when schools reopen, whether they are learning in a school building or remotely. 

The closure of school buildings last spring was especially difficult for New York City’s students with disabilities, who depend on schools for a range of specialized services and therapies—some of which can be quite challenging, if not impossible, to deliver remotely—in addition to academic instruction. Without consistent services and a structured school day, many fell behind their peers or lost skills that they had previously mastered. As the DOE prepares for the 2020-21 school year, it is critical that it address the barriers that prevented many students with disabilities from accessing remote learning last semester and put forward a plan for helping those who have fallen behind get caught up. 

The recommendations include urging the City to:

  • Offer full-time in-person instruction to all students in special education classes whose families want that option. By their very nature, these classes are already small in size and serve students with significant needs who may have particular difficulty engaging in remote learning.
  • Improve remote instruction and service delivery, including deploying educators already trained in evidence-based literacy instruction to provide small-group support to struggling readers on days they are learning remotely. The fact that students are no longer limited by the four walls of the school building offers a unique opportunity to match staff already trained in delivering evidence-based reading interventions with students who need extra help, regardless of where they happen to attend school.
  • Hold meetings with parents to develop an individualized plan for each student with a disability prior to the start of the school year. For students receiving in-person instruction part-time, schools should collaborate with families in their home language to determine what instruction and services should be provided during the student’s days in school, and what should be offered on the days they are learning remotely, in order to maximize use of their limited in-person time. These plans should also address the support parents need in order to help their child with remote learning. 
  • Provide robust behavioral and mental health supports to all students who need them, including those who have experienced COVID-related trauma or who need help readjusting to the school environment after months at home, refrain from police interventions, and limit exclusionary discipline.
  • Ensure all health and safety protocols take into account the unique needs of students with disabilities and provide supports and accommodations to those who have difficulty complying with new requirements, such as those around mask-wearing and social distancing. In addition, as schools look to repurpose every available space, they must be mindful of the needs of students and educators with physical disabilities, given that the majority of City school buildings are not fully accessible.
  • Provide compensatory services to make up for the instruction and services students missed while school buildings were closed.
  • Ensure the City’s new “Learning Bridges” child care programs provide support for students with disabilities and expand eligibility to include high school students with disabilities, some of whom are unable to stay alone while their parents work and require adult assistance in order to participate in remote learning.

“The pandemic created huge challenges for special education that require the City schools to respond with creative thinking, flexibility, and a commitment to collaborating with families to a greater extent than ever before,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC. “We all need to do everything we can to make sure this pandemic does not leave students with disabilities even further behind.”

View the press release [PDF]
Read the recommendations [PDF]

08.04.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joins more than 30 organizations in reminding the Mayor and the City of its legal obligation to provide transportation for students who are homeless, and expressing our disappointment that the City’s school reopening plan does not prioritize students who are homeless for in-person instruction. The current plans for reopening schools in the fall will be unworkable for many families experiencing homelessness, who are not permitted to leave their children in shelters during the day while they work or address other urgent family needs.

Read the letter [PDF]

06.24.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined more than 20 organizations calling on the DOE to appoint a senior-level leader to focus full-time on students in foster care and to honor its Fiscal Year 2020 commitment “to ensure bussing for students in foster care” and guarantee that students in foster care, who have a legal right to transportation between their foster homes and schools, are provided door-to-door transportation going forward. The pandemic has further demonstrated the need for a staff member who has expertise in the specific rights and needs of these students, can serve as a point person for schools and foster care agencies, and can ensure that DOE policies take into account students in care.

Read the letter [PDF]

06.24.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to new State guidance strongly encouraging school districts to provide over-age high school students the opportunity to return to school next year to finish meeting graduation requirements and to prepare for their transition out of high school:

We thank the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for strongly encouraging school districts to allow 21-year-old students to return for the 2020-21 school year to finish meeting graduation requirements and to receive the transition supports they need to move on to post-secondary opportunities. The guidance is an important first step towards ensuring that COVID-19 does not cause any student to lose their chance to earn a high school diploma or miss out on the support they need to transition out of high school.

We strongly urge the New York City Department of Education and districts across New York State to follow NYSED’s recommendation and provide all young people aging out without a diploma the opportunity to complete their education and prepare for life after high school. Districts should reach out to 21-year-old students and their families right away to let them know they can return. We agree with NYSED that “it would be a cruel injustice to pull the rug out from under these young adults who have worked so hard for so long,” and with the school year quickly coming to an end, this small group of students must know they will not be left behind.

Read the statement [PDF]

06.23.2020 | Today, AFC released a policy brief summarizing the proposed cuts to education funding in the Mayor's FY21 Executive Budget and the devastating impact these cuts would have on schools and students. The brief urges Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to reject cuts to education and ensure schools have more resources—not less—to address the challenges caused by the pandemic. 

Read the brief  [PDF]

06.16.2020 | Today, Adovcates for Children  joined more than 80 organizations calling on the State to ensure that children do not lose Early Intervention services due to the difficulties getting preschool evaluations during the pandemic. The letter asks that the State extend Early Intervention services for three-year-old children who have been unable to receive preschool special education evaluations due to the pandemic, so these children will not abruptly lose all services at the end June.

Read the letter [PDF]

06.09.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined more than 80 other education, social service, and civil rights organizations in calling on the entire New York City Congressional delegation to invest $205B in public education in the next COVID response bill. 

As organizations working with children and families in New York City, we urge our Congressional representatives to ensure the next COVID respone bill includes supplemental funding for public education, including targeted allocations to support students with disabilities, English Language Learners/multilingual learners, and students experiencing homelessness. Our public schools are facing immense and unprecedented challenges as a result of COVID-19; without substantial federal support, the current crisis will have lifelong consequences for a generation of children whose education has been interrupted for reasons beyond their control.

Read the letter [PDF]