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Cheick, an immigrant student from Mali, was told—illegally—that he had to leave high school and transfer to a high school equivalency program.

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Early Inequities report cover12.5.19 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York published a new report in partnership with Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) entitled Early Inequities: How Underfunding Early Intervention Leaves Low-Income Children of Color Behind [PDF], which shows that State disinvestment in New York’s Early Intervention program has caused major racial and socio-economic disparities in access to services.

The analysis is based on data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene obtained through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. The data track children’s progress through the Early Intervention program—from referral, to evaluation, to eligibility determination, to service receipt—disaggregated by race and neighborhood from 2016-2018. As this report demonstrates, the data show that children under the age of three with developmental delays or disabilities are less likely to receive critical services that could help them reach their full potential if they live in low-income neighborhoods of color.

In 2018, one out of every four children found eligible for Early Intervention services in New York State had to wait longer than the 30-day legal deadline for services, losing valuable opportunities to address developmental delays at a time when their brains are rapidly developing. Access to Early Intervention evaluations and services also varies widely across communities in New York City. In the Bronx, for instance, only 61% of children found eligible for services received them by the 30-day legal deadline—less than in any other borough. Overall, children in low-income communities of color are the least likely to receive the Early Intervention evaluations for which they are referred and the Early Intervention services for which they are found eligible. For example, the neighborhoods where children referred for Early Intervention evaluations due to concerns with their development were least likely to receive evaluations were Hunts Point-Mott Haven, Crotona-Tremont, Central Harlem-Morningside Heights, High Bridge-Morisania, and East Harlem.

The report makes a number of recommendations to New York City and New York State in order to increase access to Early Intervention services.

In order to increase children’s access to services, the report recommends that New York State should:

  1. Increase rates for Early Intervention evaluators, service providers and service coordinators by 10% to help address provider shortages.
  2. Fund a cost-study to assess and recommend changes to the methodology used to determine payment for evaluations, service provision, and service coordination.
  3. Adopt policies to ensure that commercial health insurance companies pay their fair share to help cover the cost of services.
  4. Conduct a statewide analysis of disparities in access to evaluations and services and develop a plan to address such disparities.

The report recommends that New York City should:

  1. Enact Intro. 1406-2019, requiring the city to issue annual public reports on the provision of evaluations and services so the public can hold the city and state accountable.
  2. Analyze the disparities and develop a plan to address them, including plans to recruit evaluators and providers for underserved neighborhoods, train service coordinators and providers in culturally responsive practices, and follow up with families whose children have not received evaluations or services.

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

11.4.19 | On November 1, 2019, the City released 2018-2019 school year data showing that, since the 2013-2014 school year, suspensions are at an all-time low, having declined by 38.5%.  The City reported that major crime in schools declined by 31.9% during the same period.  The school discipline data, which the Department of Education is required to report pursuant to the Student Safety Act, show that since last year, suspensions declined by 10.5%, and the average length of suspensions declined citywide from 7.5 to 5.8 days.

However, even as the overall number of suspensions and the average length of suspensions has fallen, the longstanding, stark racial disparities in suspensions have proven remarkably persistent. Black students—who comprise around a quarter of the New York City public school population—received more than half (52%) of all superintendent’s suspensions in 2018-19, along with 42.1% of principal’s suspensions. In 2017-18, those numbers were 51.6% and 43.5%, respectively.

There are similarly dramatic trends for students with disabilities: while approximately 20% of New York City students receive special education services, 39.7% of all suspensions issued last year went to students with disabilities—an almost identical percentage as in the past two years (students with disabilities received 40.1% of suspensions in 2017-18 and 38.9% in 2016-17).

“We are pleased by the results of the NYC Department of Education’s hard work over the 2018-2019 school year to reduce both the number and length of suspensions,” said Kim Sweet, Advocates for Children’s Executive Director. “However, there remains enormous work to be done to address the disproportionate impact of punitive, exclusionary discipline on Black students and students with disabilities. These dramatic disparities are deeply concerning.” 

Results of the recent Center for Court Innovation report School Discipline, Safety, and Climate: A Comprehensive Study in New York City show that suspensions lead to poor academic and social outcomes, including failing a grade, arrests, and further suspensions in future school years. The study also indicates that Black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, and low-income students are more likely to be suspended than other students, taking into account past behavior and similar types of incidents. The study concludes that positive practices, especially restorative approaches, can lead to better student outcomes and a better school climate. 

This year, the Administration is expanding restorative practices to 300 middle and high schools and plans to expand citywide over the course of three years.

“Going forward, it is critical that the City build on these promising results by creating a solid infrastructure to institutionalize them and make the necessary additional investments in mental health services and supports, social workers, and restorative practices to further expand on them,” said Dawn Yuster, Director of Advocates for Children’s School Justice Project. “We are eager to dig in and do the work with the City and other stakeholders on the NYC School Safety Community Partnership Committee to develop a comprehensive plan to keep students in school learning — safe and supported using evidence-based approaches to improve academic outcomes and eliminate discipline disparities by race and disability.”

View the press release as  PDF

11.01.19 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the New York City Department of Education’s special education data report for the 2018-19 school year: 

New York City continues to fall short when it comes to educating its students with disabilities. While the percentage of City students fully receiving their recommended special education instruction continued to trend in the right direction in 2018-19, we are nevertheless dismayed that more than 15 percent of students with disabilities—a total 28,960 children, more than the total enrollment of the Yonkers public schools—still did not fully receive the instruction to which they are legally entitled.

Moreover, today’s report merely tells us how many students with disabilities were in the class setting recommended by their Individualized Education Program (IEP) as of the last day of school, and how many students received at least one session of a related service, such as counseling or speech therapy, before the year was over. At a time when only 16 percent of students with disabilities are proficient in reading, a student who was recommended for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) English Language Arts class in September but did not set foot in such a classroom until February would still count as “fully” served, as would a student who went nine months without mandated speech therapy but had a single session in June. In addition, based on current reporting requirements, these numbers are available only for the City as a whole. We are calling on the DOE to release district-level quarterly public reports so that parents and advocates can assess how well their local schools are serving students with disabilities throughout the year.

The modest decrease in the timeliness of evaluations in 2018-19 is a clear signal that the City must invest in additional school psychologists, as a delay in evaluating a student inevitably means a delay in providing appropriate services if that student is found eligible. For more than one in four students who were evaluated for special education for the first time last year, more than two months passed before an IEP meeting was held to determine what learning support should be put in place, in large part because current staff are burdened by unmanageable caseloads. Two months can feel like a lifetime to a child who is struggling in school, falling behind their peers, and rapidly losing confidence in their own abilities. The special education process can be a lengthy one, even when all timelines are followed; these additional delays in getting students the help they need are simply unacceptable.

Finally, today’s report illustrates the continuing need to improve special education data management. In February 2019, the DOE announced that it would be eliminating its Special Education Student Information System (SESIS), but the City has yet to provide any details as to how or when this phase-out will occur. We urge the DOE to release a public plan and timeline to ensure a smooth transition from SESIS to its replacement, including full access for parents to their children’s records. 

On the first day of school in September, Chancellor Carranza said, “As educators, it is our great responsibility to give each student the instruction and support they need to meet the high bar we’ve set.” We agree. As the DOE focuses on improving the day-to-day work of teaching and learning, it is essential that strengthening instruction for students with disabilities be central to that effort.

View press release as a PDF

11.01.19 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the New York City Department of Education’s transportation data report for the 2018-19 school year:

Last year, we joined many others in calling on the DOE to take bold action to build a school bus system that works for all of the students it is intended to serve.  We were heartened to see Chancellor Carranza pay much-needed attention to this issue.  While the DOE took some positive steps over the past year, there continues to be an urgent need to improve school transportation.  This fall, we heard from distraught parents about buses that did not show up at all, buses that repeatedly arrived late, bus rides that lasted for hours, buses that arrived without the nurse or aide the students required for their medical needs, buses that did not have room for students’ wheelchairs, bus personnel who lack the training needed to assist students with disabilities, and long wait times for assistance from the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT).  We heard about children who had to miss school because there was no bus in place for them.

The DOE must fix its transportation system for all students, including students with disabilities, students who are homeless, and students in foster care.  For students with disabilities, a particularly urgent need is to improve coordination so that students who need medical accommodations on the bus have them in place on the first day of school.  To ensure that students living in shelter can attend and fully participate in school every day, we strongly support Council Member Levin’s bill to create an interagency task force to strengthen transportation for these students.

Another issue that demands immediate attention is bus service for students in foster care.  For students who have been separated from their families and placed in foster homes, school can be a key source of stability. The law requires the DOE to transport students between their foster care placements and schools so they don’t have to transfer when they change placements.  Despite this mandate, the DOE does not guarantee busing to even the youngest students in foster care, often giving them a MetroCard instead.  In fact, today’s report shows that the DOE denied bus service to one out of every four students in foster care who applied, providing only a MetroCard. For students in foster care who cannot travel on their own, a MetroCard is useless.

The City budget adopted in June 2019 stated that the de Blasio Administration would ensure busing for students in foster care, but the City is continuing to deny bus service to these students. 

No student in foster care should be forced to change schools due to a lack of transportation. The City must honor its commitment to ensure busing for students in foster care and meet its obligation under the law.

View press release as a PDF

10.28.19 | Today, the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students (NYS-TEACHS), a project of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), posted new data showing that the number of students in New York City identified as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year remained stubbornly high, topping 100,000 for the fourth consecutive year.

The data, which come from the New York State Education Department, show that in the 2018-2019 school year, New York City district and charter schools identified 114,085, or one in ten, students as homeless.  More than 34,000 students were living in New York City’s shelters, and more than twice that number (73,750) were living ‘doubled-up’ in temporary housing situations with relatives, friends, or others.

The number of NYC students identified as homeless has steadily increased by more than 70% over the last decade, despite this year’s scant decrease of half a percentage point from the 2017-2018 school year.  Overall, New York State schools identified 148,554 students as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year.

“This problem is immense.  The number of New York City students who experienced homelessness last year—85% of whom are Black or Hispanic—could fill the Barclays Center six times,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. "The City won’t be able to break the cycle of homelessness until we address the dismal educational outcomes for students who are homeless.”

For these students, homelessness and educational outcomes are closely tied; fewer than a third of New York City students who are homeless are reading proficiently, rates that are 20 percentage points lower than their permanently housed peers.  Only 57 percent of all NYC students who are homeless graduate from high school. And, for NYC students living in shelters, the outcomes are even more stark—fewer than half graduate from high school.  National research from Chapin Hall’s Voice of Youth Count has shown that the lack of a high school diploma is the single greatest risk factor for homelessness among young adults, putting youth without a diploma at 4.5 times the risk of experiencing homelessness as adults compared to their peers who completed high school. 

Over the past few years, the City has taken some positive steps to directly support students who are homeless, including appointing new leaders to support this population, placing 100 “Bridging the Gap” social workers and more than 100 community coordinators in schools with high numbers of students who are homeless, offering yellow bus service to kindergarten through sixth grade students living in shelter, increasing pre-K enrollment among children living in shelter, and providing after-school reading programs at certain shelters.  

Still, nearly half of families entering shelter are placed in a different borough from where their youngest child attends school, and nearly two thirds of students living in shelter are chronically absent, helping to explain the poor educational outcomes.  

“We are heartened by the supports the City has added for students who are homeless, but now the harder work begins,” Sweet said. “With new leadership and school staff in place, the City must begin turning around educational outcomes for students who are homeless, starting with making sure students get to school every day.”

Download the complete data
View news release as a PDF 

09.03.2019 | After years of the New York City Department of Education (DOE) failing to follow hearing orders to provide or pay for services for students with disabilities, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and Milbank LLP filed a Motion for an Independent Special Master to oversee the DOE’s implementation of these orders.  The motion was filed in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York in connection with the class action lawsuit, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education

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.

In 2003, AFC and Milbank filed a class action lawsuit, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education, alleging that, after parents of children with disabilities received favorable orders in impartial hearings, the DOE was failing to implement the required remedies.  In 2007, the DOE settled with the families and agreed to implement all orders involving special education within 35 days, unless the hearing officer set a different deadline.  The settlement had increasing benchmarks that the DOE committed to reach before the settlement sunsets. 

Today, AFC and Milbank filed a motion in federal court [PDF] because the DOE is now failing to meet even the lowest agreed upon benchmark.  While a special unit for implementation of these orders created in 2011 was supposed to improve the DOE’s rates of implementation, any improvement has now slipped.  In fact, between October 29, 2017 and January 26, 2018, the most recent quarter for which final data is available:

  • The DOE implemented only 69.6% of special education hearing orders within 35 days.
  • The implementation rate for hearing orders requiring the DOE to provide a service directly to a child was even worse than the implementation rate for orders requiring payment for services.  Within 35 days, the DOE implemented only 49.6% of the 700 orders requiring the DOE to provide a service to a child.  In other words, in this quarter alone, hundreds of students with disabilities did not receive the services the DOE was ordered to provide by the legal deadline.

Since that time, the DOE’s timely implementation rate has declined even further.

The delays in implementing these orders have exacerbated the harm to students with disabilities and their families.  Families file hearings only after the DOE has denied their children the services or school placements they need to learn.  The most recent data show that, from the time parents request a hearing, on average, it takes 225 days to receive a hearing order.  Then, after receiving a favorable decision, students have had to wait months to receive services they were awarded by an impartial hearing officer and parents have waited up to a year to receive ordered reimbursement for services, causing financial hardship.

For example, after the DOE illegally excluded one student from school, an impartial hearing officer ordered the DOE to find therapists to provide make-up services to the child.  However, the DOE did not begin identifying potential providers for months, and the child had to wait more than six months for the DOE to find available therapists for each of the services the hearing officer had ordered.  As his parent, Vicky Lopez, said: “I was happy when we won our hearing and my son was awarded make-up services, but, when the DOE took so many months to help me find therapists, it felt like my son was stuck and we were back to square one.”

“After parents go through the lengthy and burdensome process of a hearing and win, they expect their child to finally get the services they need—not months of stalling,” said Rebecca Shore, AFC’s Director of Litigation.  “The DOE’s delays in providing ordered services are adding insult to injury for students with disabilities and their families.  We need a special master to step in and fix this broken system.”

Erik Wilson, an associate at Milbank, said: “It is outrageous that after nearly 16 years the DOE is still failing to provide these children the services to which they are legally entitled—especially after the DOE agreed to correct its systemic failure to do so nearly a decade ago.  We hope the Court will quickly appoint an independent Special Master to ensure these students start receiving their services in a timely manner.  They deserve nothing less.”

View the redacted motion [PDF]
View news release as a pdf

08.22.2019 | In response to the release of the grades 3–8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math test scores, Kim Sweet, Executive Director, issued the following statement: 

We are pleased that test scores for third through eighth graders continue to trend in the right direction. In particular, rising ELA scores for third graders—53.3% of New York City third graders reached proficiency in 2019, compared to 50.6% of third graders in 2018—are a promising sign that the City’s investments in early childhood education and the universal literacy initiative are paying off. 

However, we note that there continue to be enormous disparities between students with disabilities and their general education peers, with only 16.1% of City students with disabilities reaching proficiency in reading—an achievement gap of 40.1 percentage points. This gap is also slightly larger than last year’s 39.4 percentage-point gap between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. Even more worrisome is the fact that only 9.3% of the City’s English Language Learners (ELLs) scored proficient in reading—a decline from the already unacceptably low proficiency rate of 9.9% in 2018—while the achievement gap between current ELLs and students who were never ELLs grew, rising from 41 percentage points in 2018 to 42.2 points in 2019. Racial achievement gaps also remain stark, with only 35% of Black students and 36.5% of Hispanic students reaching proficiency on the ELA exam, compared to two-thirds of their White and Asian peers. 

Teaching all children how to read is the most fundamental responsibility of schools. Now is the time for the City to double down on its efforts to improve literacy instruction and ensure that all students—including those with special education needs and those who are learning English—receive the support and specialized instruction they need to become proficient readers.   

View statement as a PDF

06.20.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio’s release of a school discipline package: 

Today, the City is taking some very important steps to support the social and emotional needs of students and keep them in school. Day after day, we see the academic and emotional harm that suspended, handcuffed, and arrested students face – particularly Black and Latino students and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately impacted. Over the years, the length of a suspension has often been way out of proportion to what the student did wrong, with the result that students have missed 45, 90, or 180 days of school and had trouble catching up and readjusting when they returned. We are pleased to see the City take action to reduce overly long suspensions and limit school-based arrests, which should decrease the long-term costs to students and communities of punishing students by pushing them out of school.  

For many years, Advocates for Children of New York has zealously advocated for all schools to have access to evidence-based approaches that keep students safe, supported, and learning in school, while they grow from their mistakes. By focusing more resources on supporting students directly through clinically trained mental health professionals in schools and Restorative Practices, the City is showing an increased commitment to keeping all students in school and learning.  

View statement as a PDF

06.19.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Council’s vote to adopt the Fiscal Year 2020 city budget: 

The budget adopted today takes important steps forward for our City’s students — increasing the number of school social workers so that more students receive the social-emotional support they need; funding additional Bridging the Gap social workers to help address the chronic absenteeism and trauma that often impede the education of students living in shelters; providing preschool special education classes for hundreds of children with disabilities who have been sitting at home waiting for the seats they need; and making more schools accessible to students, parents, and teachers with physical disabilities.  We thank Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson, Finance Committee Chair Dromm, Education Committee Chair Treyger, and the City Council for negotiating a budget that invests in children and youth who face enormous barriers and yet are too often left behind.

Social Workers for High-Needs Schools: By adding more than 200 school social workers, the City is taking an important step to focus urgently needed resources on the social-emotional needs of students.  Too often, we see schools resort to classroom removals, school suspensions, arrests, handcuffing, or EMS transports, instead of providing students with the behavioral support they need to stay and succeed in school.  This investment will allow thousands of students to get necessary support in school from mental health professionals. 

Bridging the Gap School Social Workers for Students Living in Shelters: We are pleased that 31 of the new social workers will be Bridging the Gap social workers who work with students living in shelters in schools with high concentrations of these students.  This investment will bring the total number of Bridging the Gap social workers to 100.  At a time of record student homelessness, Bridging the Gap social workers play a critical role in helping to ensure students living in shelter can get to school every day and receive needed counseling and support to address the trauma of homelessness.  Schools alone cannot end homelessness, but, with the right support, schools can transform the lives of students who are homeless.  One hundred Bridging the Gap social workers will go a long way toward helping students living in shelter overcome obstacles and succeed in school.

School Accessibility: For too long, the City has tolerated a system where students who use wheelchairs are effectively barred from most schools.  No child should be turned away from school because they can’t get into the building.  By investing $750 million over five years to make more schools accessible to students, families, and teachers with physical disabilities, the City is literally opening doors to inclusion and integration for people who are too often excluded.

Preschool Special Education Classes: Hundreds of the City’s preschoolers sat at home this year waiting for seats in preschool special education classes, in violation of their legal rights.  We are pleased that the budget includes funding to continue the preschool special education classes that the Department of Education opened this year and to add 200 new seats in September.  However, these additional seats do not meet the full need and will still leave children with disabilities at home while their peers participate in 3-K and Pre-K programs.  The City must ensure there is a preschool special education class seat available for every child who needs one.

Special Education Supports: We hear from families every day who are struggling to get the services their children need in school.  We are pleased that the budget includes funding to hire more school psychologists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and service providers; pilot an intensive program for students with autism; and launch an inclusion program for students with dyslexia and other print-based disabilities.  With nearly 40,000 NYC students with disabilities going without the full special education instruction they are entitled to receive under the law, this investment is sorely needed.

Busing for Students in Foster Care: For students who have been separated from their families and placed in foster homes, school can be a critical source of stability.  We have joined with 30 organizations to call on the City to guarantee busing for kindergarten through sixth grade students in foster care because no student in foster care should be forced to change schools due to lack of transportation.  We are pleased that budget documents indicate that the Administration has agreed to use existing resources to ensure busing for students in foster care, but need more details about how the Administration will carry out this commitment.

View statement as a PDF

06.14.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the agreement announced between Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council to fund 216 new school social workers: 

By adding more than 200 school social workers, the City is taking an important step to focus urgently needed resources on the social-emotional needs of students.  Too often, we see schools resort to classroom removals, school suspensions, arrests, handcuffing, or EMS transports, instead of providing students with the behavioral support they need to stay and succeed in school.  The funding announced today will allow thousands of students to get necessary support in school from mental health professionals.  We thank the Mayor and the City Council for their leadership on this important issue.  

We are also pleased that the Council is committed to ensuring that at least 31 of the 216 new social workers are targeted toward schools with high numbers of students living in shelter, increasing the number of Bridging the Gap social workers to 100.  Given the record numbers of students who are homeless, increasing the number of Bridging the Gap social workers is critical.

View statement as a PDF