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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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05.13.2020 | 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 about offers to New York City Pre-K programs:

While we are pleased that a record number of families received an offer to their first choice Pre-K program and that there are Pre-K seats left for families who did not yet apply, we are gravely concerned about preschoolers with disabilities who have a legal right to a preschool special education class but do not have one due to the City’s shortage.  Hundreds of preschoolers with disabilities were sitting at home prior to the pandemic and may have nowhere to go to school when buildings reopen.  The City’s plan for reopening schools must include ensuring there is a seat for every preschooler with a disability who needs one.

Read the statement [PDF]

Sixth Year Grads05.11.2020 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over five dozen parents and educators from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department, urging them to give students who are aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2020-21 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

While more than 95% of students who graduate high school in New York State do so in four years, a small subset of students needs five or six years to complete the requirements for a diploma. Last summer, approximately 2,700 students statewide—more than three-quarters of whom were Black or Latinx—graduated in their sixth year of high school. 

New York students who have not yet earned their diploma have the right to stay in school until the end of the school year in which they turn 21, and those who need this extra time to graduate have often overcome remarkable odds; they may be recently arrived immigrant youth who were learning English in addition to completing graduation requirements, students who dropped out for several years to work and help support their families, or students who spent time in foster care and changed schools frequently. The pandemic has now thrown their hard work into jeopardy. 

Many students across the State—through no fault of their own—have been unable to engage in remote learning and will not earn course credit this term. For overage 12th graders, the consequences will be dire: without an opportunity to finish their coursework when schools reopen, they will simply age out without a diploma, making it much more difficult for them to access post-secondary opportunities and jobs especially at a time of surging unemployment rates.

“Prior to this pandemic, our students were already facing obstacles - financial, health, caretaking - yet they still strive to earn their high school diploma. Now those challenges are magnified. We need to be flexible, to support these students to achieve their goals,” said Rachel Forsyth, who manages school programs focused on serving older students for Good Shepherd Services.

Michael Rothman, Executive Director of Eskolta School Research and Design, a nonprofit that partners with New York City Department of Education programs serving overage and under-credited students, said, “The pandemic has put into stark contrast the opportunities that some students have and others do not in our education system. Students who are overage in high school are disproportionately Black, Brown, and low-income and are more likely to be losing jobs, losing loved ones, and losing learning amidst the pandemic. To tell these students that they will not graduate because they hit the age limit in the midst of this difficult this time would only add to this inequity. This is one loss the State can do something about.” 

The groups are calling on the State to allow high school students to complete work from this school year at least until the end of summer 2021 and to allow students who are aging out of school in June 2020 to return for another year. 

“In light of the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, the State needs to extend the age of eligibility and ensure schools have sufficient resources to give this relatively small but exceptional group of young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, a Supervising Attorney 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]
View the data on last year’s sixth-year graduates [PDF]

04.24.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined more than 30 other signatories, providing feedback and recommendations on the DOE's proposed grading policy for the 2019-20 school year. In light of the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19-related school closures, the letter urges the DOE to give course credit to all students this semester (K-12) in lieu of a grading system, and to design a separate system to provide needed support to students who have fallen behind. 

We believe it would be inequitable to give grades, notations of “needs improvement” or “incomplete,” or any other indication of how a student performed while schools were closed, particularly given how many students have been unable to access remote learning in a meaningful way.  Labeling a student as needing improvement or having incomplete work would unfairly penalize students who have faced barriers to remote learning such as lack of access to technology and digital literacy, lack of English proficiency of parents and students alike, lack of special education supports, family trauma, and overall lack of resources, among others. Read the letter [PDF]

04.17.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined 40 other organizations in calling on Mayor de Blasio to prioritize and fund necessary mental health services for all students. Along with our co-signers, AFC is concerned about the physical, mental, and economic toll COVID-19 is taking on our communities – including our students, educators, families, and schools. We recognize that the traumatizing impact on our students may be long lasting and all students, particularly those who had significant mental health challenges pre-dating the pandemic, will require mental health supports and services upon return to school sometime next year. 

We urge the Mayor to take a necessary next step in the administration’s increased efforts to develop and support innovative programs that serve individuals with the highest mental health needs by launching a program targeted to students with significant mental health needs who require a higher level of integrated services to succeed in school.

We call on the administration to include and baseline $15 million in the FY 2021 budget to launch and sustain a Mental Health Continuum to support the significant behavioral health needs of students in designated neighborhoods in high-need schools. Read the letter [PDF]

04.16.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget:

Even in our darkest days, we have to continue to invest in the future, and our schools are our best hope. That is absolutely key to full recovery. 

In the year ahead, New York City students will need additional academic and social-emotional support to make up for the months of instructional time that have been lost to the pandemic and address the impact of isolation, fear, and loss. The budget cuts announced today would only worsen existing inequities and compound the immense challenges our schools and students are currently facing. 

We need our federal, state, and city elected officials to work together to ensure our schools have the resources they need so that the current crisis does not have lifelong consequences for a generation of children. 

View the press release [PDF]

04.03.2020 | Advocates for Children of New York wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos indicating our strong opposition to any waivers to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While the current public health emergency poses immense and unprecedented challenges for state and local education agencies, this is not a justification for abandoning our national commitment to provide all children with an appropriate education. It is essential to protect the civil rights of students with disabilities and keep these laws intact. Read the full letter [PDF]

03.20.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined 11 other organizations in calling on Chancellor Carranza to ensure that students who are homeless have access to the Regional Enrichment Centers when they open next week. While we do not question the decision to close schools in light of the current public health emergency, we are deeply concerned about the disproportionate impact long-term closures are likely to have on the more than 100,000 City students who are homeless. Read the letter [PDF]

03.09.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined 18 organizations committed to school stability and educational success for students in foster care in a joint statement in response to an ACS draft policy. The letter urges the City to guarantee busing or other comparable transportation for students in foster care who need it to remain in their schools to promote school stability for children in foster care. Read the letter [PDF]

02.16.2020 | City & State magazine recognized Kim Sweet, AFC's Executive Director, as one of the 100 most powerful education leaders in New York. Kim has made a career out of bringing parents and policymakers together to make New York City a safer, more nurturing place for students with disabilities. She spearheaded special education advocacy work at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and launched the ARISE Coalition to “compel systemic reform to benefit students with disabilities” after joining Advocates for Children of New York in 2007. She’s also sounded the alarm on homeless students and chronic absenteeism. Learn more about Kim Sweet.

02.11.2020 | Today, AFC is testifying at the New York State Joint Legislative Hearing on the 2020-2021 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget proposal, urging legislators to fully fund Foundation Aid; increase investments in targeted areas such as preschool special education programs, support for Multilingual Learners, and positive approaches to discipline; and reject the harmful special education waiver proposal. Read our testimony [PDF]