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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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03.23.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committee on Education on the preliminary budget, outlining our priorities for an ambitious education initiative to direct the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history. Read our testimony

first page of sign-on letter03.09.2021 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over 150 parents, educators, and other individuals from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department (NYSED), urging them to give students aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2021-22 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

New Yorkers have the right to attend school to work toward a high school diploma until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Although most students who graduate do so in four years, a small subset of young people — disproportionately students of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities — need five, six, or even seven years to finish high school. Each year, roughly 2,000-3,000 students across New York State graduate after their sixth year of high school.

Given the massive educational disruptions caused by COVID-19, NYSED and the Board of Regents issued guidance last June strongly encouraging schools to allow 21-year-olds who would otherwise be aging out of school in 2020 to return for the summer and, if necessary, attend high school this year to complete their education. As the pandemic continues, it is critical that the State immediately extend this guidance so that students who turn 21 during this school year can return for the 2021-22 school year to complete coursework or meet special education transition goals.

One young person who benefited from the extra time in school this year is Kenny Abraham, a 21-year-old who graduated in January 2021.  Kenny, an English Language Learner from Haiti, worked multiple jobs throughout high school to help support his mother and two younger siblings, which made it difficult to keep up with his education.  Kenny had fallen further behind due to the stress of the pandemic — at one point working three jobs to help his family. He would have aged out of school without a diploma in June 2020, but the State’s policy allowed him to reenroll and finish his diploma requirements at the Downtown Brooklyn Young Adult Borough Center (YABC).

“When the pandemic started, I was about to turn 21, so I thought my chance for a high school diploma was over,” Kenny Abraham said.  “When I found out I was allowed to stay in high school, I was so excited that I could finish with help from teachers and school staff who knew me. Other students deserve to get the same chance I did.”

The letter also urges NYSED to, once again, extend eligibility to students with disabilities who need more time to work toward their postsecondary transition goals. Shari DiStefano’s daughter Brianna turned 21 in December and will age out of her District 75 high school program in June. Before the pandemic, Brianna was preparing for life after high school by working in the school store, participating in a cooking program, and learning to use a calculator and cash register.  When her school went remote in March 2020, Brianna, who has autism, could no longer participate in these programs.

“Schools are doing their best. But without in-person, hands-on supports, I’ve watched Brianna’s skills regress significantly,” said Ms. DiStefano. “Students like Brianna have already missed out on a critical year of transition supports that simply cannot be provided remotely. We’re just asking for her to have the opportunity to make up those experiences so she can be ready for life after high school.”

“With so many students falling behind this year, the State should extend the age students can stay in school and give young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, Director of the Postsecondary Readiness Project at Advocates for Children of New York and Coordinator of the statewide Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma.

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

03.03.2021 | This week, Advocates for Children of New York joined more than 75 organizations to call on Governor Cuomo to ensure that schools get their full COVID-19 federal relief funding and that federal funding supplements, and does not supplant, state funding. The current Executive budget proposal would cut more than $700 million in state funding to NYC schools, potentially requiring NYC to use its federal COVID-19 education relief funding to cover regular day-to-day expenses instead of using it for the essential purposes intended by Congress of reopening schools and counteracting the unprecedented learning loss students have experienced. Without substantial state and federal support, the devastating impacts of this pandemic will plague the children of New York City with lifelong consequences.

Read the letter [PDF]

02.25.2021 | Today, AFC is submitting testimony for the New York State Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the 2021-2022 Executive Budget Health Proposal urging the Legislature to reject proposals to cut state funding for the Early Intervention (EI) program by limiting the services children can receive and, instead, invest more in EI by asking private health insurance companies to pay their fair share. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.18.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education in response to the school safety bills in support of proposed legislation regulating the New York City Police Department’s response to students in emotional crisis within public schools, significantly limiting the use of handcuffs on students in emotional crisis, and to express concern about the need for a new vision of school safety, beyond merely transferring the School Safety Division from the NYPD to the Department of Education. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.01.2021 | Last week, a federal judge ordered that a Special Master be appointed over the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) implementation of hearing orders to provide or pay for services for students with disabilities.  

When the DOE fails to provide appropriate educational services or school placements to students with disabilities, their parents may request an impartial hearing to enforce their children’s rights.  Following the hearing, an impartial hearing officer can order the DOE to provide services to a student or pay the cost of services or school tuition, but for years the DOE has failed to implement these favorable hearing orders in a timely fashion. Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and Milbank LLP had filed the motion requesting the Special Master in connection with the class action lawsuit, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education, after years of the DOE failing to provide the ordered services that students with disabilities required.  For example, between October 24, 2018 and January 21, 2019, the DOE implemented only 19.6% of hearing orders within the required 35 days.

Families request hearings as a last resort, after the DOE has denied their children the services or school placements they need to learn.  Further delays in implementing these orders only exacerbate the harm to students with disabilities, many of whom have had to wait months to receive services they were awarded by an impartial hearing officer, and to their families, some of whom have waited up to a year to receive ordered reimbursement for services, causing financial hardship.  Sustained delays in payment and implementation have resulted in providers terminating services, schools barring enrollment, and students who must wait even longer without the services and instruction that they need.

“For too many years, students with disabilities have been harmed by the DOE’s failures in providing the services they need.  We are hopeful that the Special Master will improve the DOE’s implementation process so students will not have to wait any longer for ordered services,” said Rebecca Shore, AFC’s Director of Litigation.  

”The appointment of a special master is the latest step in our 14-year saga to force the DOE to fulfill their legal obligation to provide educational services to students with disabilities in a timely manner,” said Erik Wilson, an associate at Millbank.  “The DOE’s longstanding abdication of those responsibilities has caused immense harm to these students, their families, and the schools and providers of these services.  We hope that court-ordered improvements to DOE’s systems and processes—based on the recommendations of an independent expert special master—will finally bring DOE into compliance and provide much-needed relief to those who rely on DOE for providing such services.”

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

01.28.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying at the New York State Joint Legislative Hearing on the 2021-2022 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget proposal, urging legislators to increase, and not cut, state education funding and ensure schools can use their full COVID-19 relief funding to reopen schools and help students catch up. Read our testimony [PDF]

01.20.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committee on Education about the impact of COVID-19 on student learning, outlining essential principles and critical elements that must be included in a comprehensive COVID-19 education recovery effort. Read our testimony [PDF]

01.15.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data brief, Delayed Interventions: Early Indicators of the Pandemic’s Impact on Infants and Toddlers, showing a steep decline during the COVID-19 pandemic in the number of infants and toddlers referred to the New York City Early Intervention (EI) program to address concerns about their development.  As a result, thousands of young children with developmental delays or disabilities missed the chance for intervention at the time it is most effective.

The first few years of life, when the brain is developing rapidly, offer a critical window of opportunity to intervene and maximize the positive impact of services like speech and physical therapy on a child’s development, and Early Intervention—part of the federal special education law—provides such services to zero-to-three-year-old children with developmental delays or disabilities. When COVID-19 closed child care programs, led parents to postpone routine visits to the pediatrician, and otherwise disrupted daily life for families with young children, this window slammed shut for thousands of infants and toddlers in New York City. The brief released today, which analyzes data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), shows that:

  • In late March and early April 2020, there was an 82% drop-off, compared to the beginning of the year, in the average number of children referred to EI each week due to concerns about their development.
  • An estimated 3,000–6,000 young children in New York City were never identified as potentially having a developmental delay or disability. Instead of being evaluated to determine their eligibility for the EI program and potentially receiving services to support their healthy development, these children have simply fallen off the radar—and thus may require more intensive, and expensive, special education services later on.
  • The total number of infants and toddlers receiving EI services between July and September 2020 was 15% lower than the same time period in 2019, a difference of nearly 2,900 children.

In addition, many children with developmental delays and disabilities who were receiving EI services prior to the pandemic stopped getting their legally mandated services after the City shut down in March, whether due to a lack of technology, because teletherapy proved ineffective, or because helping children under age 3 participate in remote services proved logistically impossible for some working parents.  According to phone surveys conducted by DOHMH, which runs the EI program, between April and mid-June, nearly one in four families (24%) were not receiving any of their EI services as of the time they were surveyed.

“Infants and toddlers cannot afford to wait for critically important Early Intervention services,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “The State and City need to take quick action to ensure young children with developmental delays and disabilities get the services they need right away.”

While the analysis focuses on data from New York City, statewide data show similar trends. Across New York State, 6,000 fewer children were enrolled in the EI program between July and September 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

The brief makes a number of recommendations to New York State and City for addressing the pandemic’s impact on the Early Intervention program, including:

  • Launching an outreach campaign to families and developing a comprehensive plan for developmental screenings to ensure young children are connected to services as soon as possible when a concern is identified;
  • Identifying and addressing barriers to participation in EI during the pandemic, including by providing access to technology needed for remote evaluations and services;
  • Providing make-up services to children who missed out on mandated therapies during the pandemic; and
  • Increasing funding in the State budget for Early Intervention and preschool special education, including by requiring health insurance companies to contribute more to the cost of EI, and preparing for a potential post-COVID surge in referrals.


View the press release [PDF]
Read the data brief [PDF]

12.16.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York testified before the City Council Committee on Education and Committee on Women and Gender Equity about the related issues of a shortage of preschool special education programs, and the problem of Learning Bridges child care programs excluding children with disabilities. Read our testimony [PDF]