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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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06.23.2021 | Today, AFC joined 90+ organizations to call on Mayor de Blasio to address the shortage of preschool special education classes and provide salary parity to teachers of preschool special education classes at community-based organizations (CBOs) this year. Pre-K will never be “for all” until the City ensures a preschool special education class seat for every child who needs one. Recently released data show that, as of the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 1,215 New York City preschoolers were waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education classes in violation of their legal rights. Read the letter [PDF]

first page of data brief06.03.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data brief, Police Response to Students in Emotional Crisis: A Call for Comprehensive Mental Health and Social-Emotional Support for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF], exploring data on police response to more than 12,000 incidents between July 2016 and June 2020 involving a student in emotional distress removed from class and transported to the hospital for psychological evaluation—what the New York Police Department (NYPD) terms a “child in crisis” intervention. Mirroring broader trends in policing, a disproportionate share of these interventions involved Black students, students attending New York City Department of Education (DOE) District 75 special education schools, and students attending schools located in low-income communities of color. The brief calls on the City to end the criminalization of students in emotional crisis by eliminating police from schools and invest in a comprehensive, integrated system of school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral and mental health supports and services that will promote well-being and equity for all students and school staff.

The new brief is an update to AFC’s November 2017 report, Children in Crisis, which examined NYPD data on such interventions during the 2016-17 school year, the first full year for which data were publicly available pursuant to the Student Safety Act. In subsequent years, the number of child in crisis interventions only increased: during the first three quarters of the 2019-20 school year—the months prior to the closure of school buildings due to COVID-19—the number of child in crisis interventions was approximately 24% higher than the equivalent time period in 2016-17. Overall, almost half of all interventions during the past four school years involved children between the ages of 4 and 12, and in 297 instances, the NYPD handcuffed a student who was under the age of 13, including three 5-year-olds, seven 6-year-olds, and 23 7-year-olds.

Our analysis finds that Black students—particularly Black boys—and students with disabilities attending District 75 special education schools are dramatically over-represented in the population of students for whom an emotional crisis at school leads to an interaction with the police and removal to the hospital emergency room, as well as those handcuffed during these incidents. Between July 2018 and March 2020:

  • More than a quarter (26.7%) of child in crisis interventions involved Black boys, who were only 13% of the public school population; Black girls comprised 12.4% of overall enrollment but 20.1% of those subject to child in crisis interventions. 
  • More than one out of every three (36.7%) students handcuffed while in emotional crisis was a Black boy; Black girls subject to these interventions were handcuffed at twice the rate of White girls. 
  • Of the children between the ages of 4 and 12 who experienced a child in crisis intervention during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, more than half (51.8%) were Black. 
  • At least 9.1% of all child in crisis interventions occurred in District 75 schools, even though District 75 enrolled only 2.3% of New York City students. More than one out of every five (21.3%) students handcuffed while in crisis was a student with a disability in District 75.

The data also show that law enforcement intervened in student mental health crises at significantly higher rates, relative to total enrollment, at schools in the Bronx, central Brooklyn, parts of midtown Manhattan, and southeast Queens, as compared to schools elsewhere in the five boroughs. Overall, nearly a third (32.7%) of all child in crisis interventions between July 2016 and June 2020 occurred in just ten of the City’s 77 police precincts—eight in the Bronx, along with the precincts encompassing Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn—even though schools located in those precincts enrolled less than a fifth of City students. Together, just two Bronx precincts—the 42nd and the 48th, which cover Morrisania, East Tremont, Belmont, and West Farms—handcuffed more children between the ages of 5 and 12 than all sixteen precincts in Queens combined.

“Students in emotional crisis need emotional support; they don’t need to be criminalized and handcuffed,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “As a city, we need to start treating all students as we want our own children to be treated.”

“Police responses are extremely traumatic for the student, their peers, and all school staff who witness the police intervention,” said Jennifer Finn, a special education teacher and member of Teachers Unite. “It is impossible to justify the use of law enforcement when a student needs emotional and behavioral support.”

The brief makes a number of recommendations for transforming the City’s response to children in emotional crisis and building the DOE’s capacity to provide effective behavioral and mental health supports to students. Among other recommendations detailed in the report, the City should:

  • Stop calling 911, the police, or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to take students to the hospital emergency room when medically unnecessary; 
  • Enact Intro 2188, a bill pending in the City Council that would significantly curtail the NYPD’s ability to handcuff students in emotional crisis; 
  • Hire more clinically-trained mental health staff in schools or in organizations partnered with schools; 
  • Include $118 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget to fund the full implementation of restorative practices; 
  • Invest $15 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget for an integrated system of targeted and intensive supports and services for students with significant mental health needs, such as through the Mental Health Continuum recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, the City Council, and the Comptroller; 
  • Staff the Borough Offices and District 75 with additional behavior specialists to provide direct support to schools struggling to address student behavior; and 
  • Expand inclusive school program options for students with emotional, behavioral, or mental health disabilities. 

“As a parent of a student with a disability and a Council Member in the Bronx, I am horrified by the idea that police are handcuffing students when they are in emotional crisis and that this is disproportionately impacting students with disabilities, Black children, and students in the Bronx,” said City Council Member Diana Ayala. “I have heard directly from impacted parents about how traumatic this experience is for their children. We must immediately pass Int. 2188, which outlines steps police must take before intervening when a student is in crisis and significantly limits their ability to handcuff these children.”

“Given the trauma that so many students have experienced over the past year and a half, it is more critical than ever that the DOE invest in public health alternatives to police interventions and 911 calls,” said Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project. “None of us would head to a police precinct for mental health care for ourselves or our children—nor should we rely on police to address children’s emotional needs at school.”

Read the data brief [PDF]
View the news release as a PDF

06.02.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) joined 35 child welfare and education organizations to call on Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Porter to invest in support for students in foster care. We're aksing that they provide funding in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget to create a DOE office focused full-time on students in foster care and to guarantee school bus or other door-to-door transportation for students in foster care who need it to maintain school stability. 

Read the sign-on letter [PDF]

Spring 2021 | AFC has outlined our priorities for education investments we are recommending for the final NYC budget as the City decides how to use the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history.  Learn more about our COVID-19 Education Recovery Plan and NYC budget priorities

On May 25, 2021, we testified [PDF] before the City Council on the Mayor’s budget proposal, outlining our priorities for an ambitious education initiative to direct the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history. Click on the links below to learn more about each of AFC's advocacy priorities [PDF] for the Fiscal Year 2022 New York City budget. 

Education Budget Priorities for NYC Fiscal Year 2022 Budget [PDF]
The Fiscal Year 2022 Executive Budget includes some important education investments, including 100% Fair Student Funding for all schools. In addition, we are encouraged to see investments in areas such as special education services, preschool special education, and social workers. However, the Executive Budget is short on details in some areas and provides inadequate funding levels to meet the need in other areas. Based on our work on the ground partnering with individual families to help their children succeed in school, we have laid out our recommendations for education investments we would like to see in the final NYC budget.

COVID-19 Education Recovery [PDF
Over the past year, the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to the education of children and youth—and the students hit hardest have been those who were already struggling in school or marginalized on the basis of race, poverty, disability, immigration status, English proficiency, homelessness, or involvement in the child welfare or juvenile or criminal justice systems. New York City needs an ambitious Education Recovery Plan to pave the way to hope and opportunity for this generation of students. Such a plan must invest resources in academic support, mental health support, and outreach and engagement. It must be targeted to assist students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including the provision of specialized instruction and support where needed. With the federal government having approved the largest one-time investment in education in our nation’s history, planning must happen now if we are to make the best use of the resources coming our way and ensure an effective transition back into the classroom for hundreds of thousands of students. This document contains our recommendations for steps the City should take.

Teach Every Student to Read [PDF
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—less than half of third through eighth graders, and only 36% of Black and Hispanic students and 16% of students with disabilities in grades 3–8, were reading proficiently in 2019—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 in a comprehensive effort to revamp the way it provides reading instruction to all students and targeted interventions to students who need extra support, including those in middle and high school.

Mental Health Supports for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF
The COVID-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated social-emotional challenges for all members of the school community. While the City has committed to addressing student mental health, there is not sufficient additional funding directed towards their needs. The current proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 contains merely a $35 million increase for Social-Emotional Learning, leaving schools to find a way to provide additional services for students without the funding to pay for them. It is more urgent than ever that the City make students’ mental health and well-being a top priority. The City must re-allocate the $450 million NYPD budget for school policing to support the mental health and social-emotional needs of NYC’s students by funding direct services to support students' social-emotional needs; targeted intensive mental health supports for students; and the expansion and full implementation of school-wide restorative justice practices.

Meet the Need for Preschool Special Education Class Seats [PDF
By early March 2020, hundreds of NYC students were already sitting at home—not because of the pandemic, but because the City did not have enough seats in preschool special education classes. As a result, children with disabilities who had a legal right to a preschool special education class missed a critical opportunity for intervention during the window of time when these services can have the greatest impact. The City must ensure there is a preschool special class seat for every child who requires one, either by opening more DOE-run classes or by ensuring CBOs do so, and should extend salary parity to teachers of CBO preschool special classes so they may continue to support preschoolers with disabilities.

Support Students in Foster Care [PDF
Approximately 6,000 New York City students are in foster care each year. Students in foster care are disproportionately Black and come from NYC’s poorest communities. They are among the most likely to repeat a grade, be chronically absent, or leave high school without a diploma—and were impacted particularly hard by the closure of schools. To support students in foster care, the FY 2022 budget should include $5 million for bus service for students in foster care to increase school stability and $1.5 million to establish a small Department of Education office focused on supporting students in foster care.

05.25.2021 | Today, AFC testified before the City Council Committee on Finance on the Executive Budget, outlining our priorities for the historic influx of education funding from the state and federal governments. The City must use that funding effectively to provide needed academic and social-emotional support, incorporating outreach to students and families who have not yet re-engaged and specialized support for students who need it. Read our testimony [PDF]

05.04.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and The Legal Aid Society released a report highlighting the urgent need for the Department of Education (DOE) to launch a small office focused solely on the needs of students in foster care. Currently, the DOE does not have an office, team, or even a single staff member dedicated to supporting youth in foster care, a group of students particularly in need of specialized support. 

The approximately 6,000 New York City students who spend time in foster care during any given school year – who are disproportionately Black and come from the City’s poorest communities – face enormous educational challenges. For example:

  • Only 42.2% of New York City students in foster care graduated on time in 2020, the lowest graduation rate of any student group and 36.6 percentage points lower than the rate for students not in foster care.
  • More than one in five New York City students in foster care repeats a grade, compared to only 6% of all DOE students.
  • The average student in foster care misses the equivalent of one-and-a-half months of school each year, and one out of every ten students in care has an attendance rate of less than 50%.
  • While 17% of all New York students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) because they have a disability and need special education services, over half of New York’s students in foster care have an IEP.

In March 2018, the City’s Interagency Foster Care Task Force, whose membership included the Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the DOE Chief Operating Officer, recommended that the DOE establish an infrastructure to focus on students in foster care, similar to its Office of Students in Temporary Housing. 

Three years later, the City has yet to act on this recommendation—and without staff in place, there is no one at the DOE consistently advocating for students in foster care, ensuring that the unique needs of students in care are considered when making policy decisions, or focusing on developing and implementing programs to assist students in foster care. At a time when the DOE is receiving an historic influx of federal and state funding, this report demonstrates the continued need for a DOE office for students in foster care and describes key responsibilities this office would carry out, including:

  • Providing a point of contact for schools, families, and child welfare professionals with questions about students in foster care.
  • Training and supporting schools on the needs and rights of students in foster care and their families.
  • Supporting parental involvement in education while their children are in foster care.
  • Tracking and improving educational outcomes, opportunities, and programming for students in foster care.
  • Developing and implementing policies related to students in foster care.

“School has the potential to be a great source of stability to students in foster care, at a time in their lives when so much is unfamiliar and uncertain,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “With the right support in place, school can be a safe haven for students experiencing the traumatizing separation from home and family. It’s critical that the DOE pay greater attention to this group of students, to equip schools with the knowledge and resources they need to serve students in foster care and their families effectively.”

"Students in foster care are among the most vulnerable of New York City students,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “They face tremendous challenges, ranging from trauma to frequent school changes, which can negatively impact their learning.  The creation of a dedicated office for children in foster care within the DOE can provide these students with essential services, and help ensure that their local schools have the training and resources that they need to meet these students' needs so they can be successful."

“As a former public school educator, I have witnessed first-hand the gap in knowledge among school staff about the overall needs of children in foster care,” said Dr. Brenda Triplett, Educational Director for Child Welfare and Family Services, Children’s Aid. “The pandemic has complicated the legal and logistical requirements to provide services for these youth and their families, in effect deepening longstanding inequities. Having a DOE office dedicated to understanding the needs of youth in care and mitigating the challenges they face is critical to their futures.”

Read the report [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

04.16.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committees on Education and General Welfare about the importance of having an intentional, targeted plan to support students in shelter as the City decides how to use its historic influx of education funding. Read our testimony [PDF]

first page of policy brief04.14.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief highlighting disparities in school attendance during the pandemic and calling on the City to invest in an ambitious Education Recovery Plan that ensures all students can receive the academic and social-emotional support they need as they return to school.

As required by Local Law 10 of 2021, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) recently posted disaggregated attendance data for the month of January, marking the first time this school year that such data has been publicly available. The new brief summarizes key takeaways from the data, which provide a snapshot of student engagement during remote and blended learning and make clear that COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on marginalized student populations. While absenteeism has risen across the board this year, attendance rates are strikingly low among students living in homeless shelters, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities, particularly at the high school level. In January 2021:

  • Students living in shelter had by far the lowest attendance rate of any student group: 75.7%, 14.1 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently-housed peers. Ninth, tenth, and twelfth graders in shelter had attendance rates of just 64-67%, meaning they missed around one out of every three school days. 
  • ELLs and students with disabilities in grade 10, along with ELL twelfth graders—roughly 30,000 students in all—missed approximately one out of every four school days.
  • The attendance rate for ELL tenth graders was 10.1 percentage points lower than the 2018-19 attendance rate for ELLs in tenth grade, a notably larger decline than for non-ELLs; students with disabilities also saw larger drops in attendance, relative to the 2018-19 school year, than their peers without disabilities.

“The latest attendance data should spur City Hall and the DOE to action,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “Tens of thousands of students are still struggling to access an education because of the pandemic or are at risk of disconnecting from school entirely. With the DOE poised to get billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funding, now is the time to put forward a comprehensive plan for an equitable recovery.”

AFC is recommending that the City’s plan for using its $7 billion in federal education COVID-19 funding include:

  • Investing in a corps of professionals, including bilingual staff and shelter-based staff, to focus on academic support, social-emotional support, and outreach to students and families. 
  • Engaging in intentional, proactive planning and outreach to ensure that the new Summer Rising program benefits all students—including students with disabilities, ELLs, and students experiencing homelessness—and provides the specialized supports these populations need.
  • Providing targeted academic and mental health supports; for example, one-on-one or small group tutoring, evidence-based literacy curricula, and staff such as social workers and behavior specialists who can provide direct services to students.
  • Investing in intensive, targeted outreach to re-engage students and families who are currently disconnected from school.
  • Providing make-up services and specialized support for students with disabilities and ELLs who did not receive their legally mandated instruction during the pandemic. 
  • Allowing 21-year-old students who would otherwise age out of school this year to attend Summer Rising and return to school next year so they can finish their diploma requirements or meet transition goals, particularly given the particularly low attendance rates for high school students. Just yesterday, the New York State Education Department issued a memo strongly encouraging districts to allow students aging out of school to attend summer school and, if needed, return to school for the 2021-2022 school year.

Read the policy brief [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

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]