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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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colored chalk with overlaid text that reads "back to school 2023"

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.

thumbnail image of start of school year Q&ARefer to our Start of School Year 2023-24 Fact Sheet for Families of Students with Disabilities, which we will continue to update as we learn more.

En Español: Preguntas y Respuestas Sobre el Comienzo de Clases para Familias de Alumnos con Discapacidades

This fact sheet for families of students with disabilities covers issues that typically come up at the start of the school year, such as what to do if a child does not yet have a school assignment or the school assigned says they cannot serve the child’s needs.

AFC's Back to School Webinar

We took questions about back to school and shared advocacy tips to help troubleshoot issues with busing, special education services, and more. View slides from the webinars as a PDF

➞ Transportation

All families are supposed to be notified about their bus routes the week prior to the beginning 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. However, due to strike negotiations, there may have been delays.

If you need help setting up or accessing a NYC Schools Account, reach out to your child's school. If your child's IEP mandates specialized transportation, it should be in place by 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.  Learn more about arranging transportation services and eligibility.

For more information on eligibility and transportation options, you can call the DOE's Customer Service Unit at (718) 392-8855, or send an email to transportation@schools.nyc.gov.

➞ 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. FWCs are open from 8am—5pm, Monday—Thursday, and 8am—3pm on Fridays. Learn more in our tip sheet, Enrollment in New York City Public Schools for Immigrant Families (also available in: BengaliChinese, and Haitian Creole).

Until September 22nd, the DOE will be running temporary enrollment sites that can accommodate more families. All sites offer translation and interpretation services. 

Need borough-based enrollment information for recently arrived students? We have tip sheets for the Bronx (English, Spanish), Brooklyn (English, Spanish), Manhattan (English, Spanish), Queens (English, Spanish), and Staten Island (English, Spanish).

➞ What to know in case of a bus strike

Update as of 9.21.2023: NYC school bus drivers reached a tentative agreement last night with the 5 largest school bus companies, averting a widespread strike. They are still negotiating with NYCSBUS, the city-owned nonprofit bus fleet, and two smaller companies.

Update as of 9.6.2023: The DOE announced that, although there will not be a bus strike this week, they are expecting disruptions and/or delays to bus service as school starts, due to delays in the process of assigning bus routes to drivers. Check the DOE's bus delays page to see if your child's route has been affected.

Update of 9.2.2023: There will not be any school bus service disruptions this week. Negotiations are ongoing, but routes will be serviced as planned for the first week of school. Read more on Chalkbeat NY.

There is a chance of a school bus driver strike that could impact your children's transportation services. The DOE is preparing for the possibility of a strike, and has shared a contingency plan for if the strike goes through. The DOE will provide Emergency MetroCards for all affected students and families, valid on MTA buses & subways (Mon-Fri, 5:30 AM-8 PM), as well as pre-paid rideshare and transportation reimbursement for eligible families, including students with disabilities with recommended transportation and students in temporary housing and foster care who receive yellow bus service. Learn more about the contingency plan. The DOE has agreed to provide families with up to 4 trips per day (to and from school/work/home or alternate drop-off).

We recognize that for some families, these contingency plans may not be enough. If you can’t wait for reimbursement or your child needs accessible transportation services, feel free to call the AFC Helpline at (866) 427-6033 for more information. You can also call the DOE's Customer Service Unit at (718) 392-8855.

To get updates as the threat of the strike progresses, be sure your contact information is up-to-date in your NYC Schools Account; all communications in the event of a strike will be sent to the contacts listed there.

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

report cover09.29.2017 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York and SCO Family of Services, a social services provider, announced the launch of a Parent Toolkit, an easy to use guide that provides recommendations and resources to enhance parent involvement in their child’s education while in foster care.  The Toolkit helps parents navigate the education system while embracing the important role they play in their children’s academic success and achievements.  

“Parent engagement can have a dramatic impact on a child’s education, and the recommendations contained in the report demonstrate that more can be done to fully engage parents in their children’s education while in foster care,” remarked Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children. “These recommendations provide a road map for involving parents who have often felt excluded and focus on shared education planning and decision-making, with parents serving as both advocates for their children and partners with schools and foster care agencies.”

The Toolkit accompanies a jointly produced report, Empowering Parents So Children Succeed, and is the product of a three-year partnership between Advocates for Children and SCO Family of Services. 

View the press release [PDF]
View the report [PDF]

Toolkit

Parent Engagement Workflow [PDF]

Parent Education Bill of Rights [PDF]
(also available in Spanish)

Talking to Your Child about School [PDF
(also available in Spanish)

Translation and Interpretation Services Fact Sheet [PDF
(also available in ArabicBengaliChineseFrenchHaitian CreoleKoreanRussianSpanishUrdu)

School Template Letter [Word file]

School Contacts Sheet [PDF
(also available in Spanish)

IEP Information Sheet [PDF

Parent-Teacher Conferences Tip Sheet [PDF
(also available in Spanish)

Advocates for Children’s Guide to Special Education [PDF
(also available in ArabicBengali, ChineseSpanish)

Online Tools for Locating Community-Based Resources [PDF

Homework Tip Sheet [PDF
(also available in Spanish)

Advocates for Children’s Education Helpline Flyer [PDF
(also available in Spanish)