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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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09.15.2016 | Today, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) released data showing that schools have continued to become safer: there are record lows in school crime and fewer students arrested for school-related incidents. Despite these improvements, new data reported pursuant to Student Safety Act amendments passed last year illustrates the critical need for the City to embark on a long overdue strategic plan to address significant racial disparities in students arrested, issued summonses, and handcuffed in school. 

“While the data shows a welcome decline in school crime, it’s very troubling to see the continued racial disparities in who is arrested or given a summons, with Black and Latino students disproportionately affected. The City needs to develop and implement a comprehensive plan that tackles these disparities head on and uses data to target its efforts effectively,” said Kim Sweet, the Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.

In addition to the racial disparities, the second quarter data suggests that some school staff have not received appropriate de-escalation training and some schools do not have appropriate de-escalation plans in place to manage students in emotional crisis, as required by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor’s Regulation A-411. Consequently, students in emotional crisis as young as 7 years old are getting handcuffed in schools.

The data also shows that students—almost all of whom are students of color—get entangled in the court system for noncriminal incidents at school. Students as young as 16 years old receive a summons to appear in court for minor misbehavior that does not rise to the level of a crime. The City must move quickly to revise the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NYPD and the DOE to decriminalize student misbehavior by clearly delineating the roles of school administrators and the NYPD.

Finally, the data reveals a troubling number of students arrested in school for incidents that occurred outside of school. 38% of student arrests in school were for non-school related incidents. “Schools are places of learning. Students should not fear that they or their friends will be interrogated, arrested, and hauled off in handcuffs by police officers when they go to school,” said Dawn Yuster, School Justice Project Director at Advocates for Children of New York.

View statement [PDF]

09.07.2016 | At Advocates for Children of New York, we are gearing up for the first day of school, a moment that invites us to reflect on what we do and how we want to impact the world around us. Each new school year brings new demands but also new opportunities to use our resources and expertise to improve the lives of children in New York City and across New York State. 

This summer started with a June and July that highlighted some of the terrible problems facing our society. Forty-nine people were murdered at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Communities across the country erupted in protest as two more videos showed men of color -- Alton Sterling and Philando Castile -- being killed in police shootings. And anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric continued to dominate the national political stage. 

For many of the young people we serve, gun violence, police brutality, racism, and prejudice are ever-present concerns. They have to navigate this treacherous terrain as they grow up and go to school; despite all that is going on around them, they have to feel safe enough to be able to learn and optimistic enough about their future to be motivated to try. When they encounter roadblocks to an appropriate education, it is critically important that they and their families have somewhere to turn for assistance. As an organization dedicated for 45 years to eradicating barriers to education based on factors like poverty, race, disability, and national origin, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to provide young people with the support they need to meet the challenges of their current environment and emerge with the education they need to live full and productive lives. 

As we prepare for the start of a new school year, we re-affirm our commitment to advocate for the children who most need our help to succeed in school -- the children whom the school system does not serve well for a variety of reasons, ranging from overt prejudice to implicit bias, from under-funded programs to inadequately trained staff. In the coming year, we will be expanding our advocacy for students who are LGBTQ and students who experience bullying. We will strengthen our partnerships with organizations serving NYC's diverse immigrant communities, including families that speak Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese. And we will continue our work to stop the school-to-prison pipeline by, for example, fighting for access to early childhood education, demanding appropriate support and services for students with disabilities, and advocating for students involved with the court system to get their education back on track. 

Thank you for your partnership and support as we work together towards a brighter future for New York's children. We're looking forward to a great year! 

kim signature
Kim Sweet
Executive Director

thumbnail of fact sheet

08.25.2016 | The first day of school is Thursday, September 8! In preparation, we've updated our back-to-school fact sheet for families of students with disabilities, which covers concerns that typically come up at this time of 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; how to find an accessible school; and arranging for specialized transportation. View the fact sheet in English [PDF] and Spanish [PDF]. 

If you have additional questions or need assistance, please call AFC’s Education Helpline: (866) 427-6033, Monday—Thursday, 10am—4pm.

08.08.2016 | This evening, AFC is testifying at the DOE’s hearing on proposed changes to the Discipline Code. Our testimony focuses on the proposals to ban suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade, require schools to document supports and interventions used, and expand the options for the length of suspensions. View testimony [PDF].

07.21.2016 | Today, the City announced its intention to implement the recommendation of the Mayoral Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline to modify the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) discipline code to end suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade and increase support for positive behavior interventions in schools.  Advocates for Children of New York staunchly supports the elimination of suspensions for these students and the use of a developmentally sound approach to address the behavior of young children instead. 

“Suspending a young child from school does nothing to teach social-emotional skills or change the child’s behavior when the child returns, and removing children from the classroom causes them to fall behind in key academic skills, such as learning to read. The City should act quickly to implement the changes recommended,” said Kim Sweet, the Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  

As NYPD data also released today reveals, our schools have become safer: crime is down, fewer students are arrested, and most police encounters with students are for low-level crimes and noncriminal offenses.  Despite these improvements, new data reported pursuant to Student Safety Act amendments passed last year illustrates the continued need for the City to embark on a long overdue strategic plan to address significant racial disparities in students arrested, handcuffed, and issued summonses, as well as in students suspended.  

The Leadership Team’s report contains a number of additional recommendations that should be implemented, including:  

  • Launching a pilot program providing a comprehensive mental health service continuum in 20 high-needs schools, including using hospital-based clinics and providing whole-school Collaborative Problem Solving training to support these schools, and  
  • Revising the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the DOE to decriminalize student misbehavior by clearly delineating the roles of school administrators and the NYPD, specifying minor offenses that will not result in student arrest or receipt of a summons, and creating an arrest diversion program for lower-level crimes. 

Says Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project, “There are a lot of excellent ideas in this report.  Now the City needs to make them happen.”

View full statement [PDF]

06.07.2016 | A coalition of national, statewide and local organizations today urged passage of A.8396, the Judge Judith S. Kaye Safe and Supportive School Act, New York legislation aimed at promoting positive school climates and reducing racial discipline disparities. Their remarks come on the heels of new national data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Eights (OCR) showing persistent racial disparities in student suspensions and expulsions. 

“The U.S. Department of Education data is clear that Black girls are especially vulnerable to racially-biased discipline and school policing, even as young learners. While Black girls make up only 20 percent of preschool enrollment, they are half of preschool girls who receive out-of-school suspensions. When we see such racial disparities in these early years, we know that new approaches are needed,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “The findings confirm that we must support reforms included in the Safe and Supportive Schools Act and continue to work on behalf of children who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination due to their race.”

View full statement from the New York Coalition for Safe & Supportive Schools [PDF]

05.24.2016 | The New York Bar Foundation recently presented a grant of $6,200 to Advocates for Children of New York. The grant will be used to support their Assistance for Children with Disabilities program. “The support of the New York Bar Foundation will help make it possible for us to provide legal services to low-income students and families who have nowhere else to turn,” states Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children.  The goal for all of AFC’s work is that children succeed in schools and programs that provide appropriate levels of challenge and support.

View press release from the New York Bar Foundation [PDF]

05.24.2016 | Today, AFC is testifying about the city budget before the City Council Committee on Finance, asking that the final budget include increased funding for DOE social workers for students living in shelters and for restorative justice programs. View testimony [PDF]

05.19.2016 | As the New York State Senate Education Committee holds a hearing today on mayoral control of New York City schools, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), released the following statement supporting a long-term extension of mayoral control: 

As a watchdog agency working to protect the rights of students, we know that there is substantial room for improvement in our public schools. But we also know that mayoral control has led to an infusion of attention and resources that has produced results for our City’s students and schools. Having monitored the City’s school system before and after mayoral control went into effect, we strongly support a long-term extension of mayoral control.

By various indicators, we have seen steady improvement in student outcomes under mayoral control. We have seen these gains for the student population as a whole as well as for subgroups of students such as students with disabilities. We have also seen mayoral initiatives, like Pre-K for All and the expansion of community schools, which would not have been possible without the ability to marshal the resources of various city agencies.

We have not agreed with every decision that Mayor Bloomberg or Mayor de Blasio has made about our City’s schools. But we agree that the mayor, as the City’s top elected leader, should be responsible for the education of the City’s students.

The question about mayoral control should focus not on who is mayor but on how we build an education system that best serves children. Mayoral control in New York City has a track record of producing results for students. We urge the State Legislature to approve a long-term extension of mayoral control.

View press statement [PDF]
View testimony submitted to the New York State Senate Education Committee [PDF]

04.19.2016 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services about the need to make certain that our public schools are prepared to provide all students, including those with dyslexia and other disabilities, with appropriate, evidence-based literacy instruction. View our full testimony [PDF]