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Cheick’s Story

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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Press Releases

07.08.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza’s announcement of plans for reopening school buildings in September: 

Bringing 1.1 million children and more than 70,000 teachers safely back into the classroom in the midst of a pandemic is an enormously challenging task, but the plans Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza announced this morning lack the level of innovative thinking and cross-sector coordination that this moment requires. The split-schedule models presented today will worsen existing inequities, and they are just plain unworkable for many low-income families who cannot continue to stay home to watch and educate their children. For example:

  • This spring, many students—including students who have disabilities, are learning English as a new language, or are living in homeless shelters—struggled to participate meaningfully in remote learning and have fallen behind. Instead of receiving priority for in-person instruction this fall, however, most of these students will continue on remote instruction for two to four days each week.

  • The number of days of in-person instruction any individual student receives will depend on the school they happen to attend, which means that a child who has the disadvantage of attending an over-crowded school will receive less in-person instruction than a child who does not.  

  • Working families who have multiple children attending different schools—or maybe even different grades at the same school—will be forced into an impossible juggling act trying to manage multiple different part-time schedules in which different children attend school on different days, depending on the week. Schooling is inextricably intertwined with child care, and the two systems must be looked at together—not in isolation or as an afterthought. 

We know the City is facing unprecedented challenges, but for that very reason, our leaders need to break down siloes between agencies, departments, and schools and achieve a new level of collaboration with parents, businesses, and community partners so that students can receive the academic and social-emotional support they need to get back on track and parents can return to work.

Read the statement [PDF]

06.24.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to new State guidance strongly encouraging school districts to provide over-age high school students the opportunity to return to school next year to finish meeting graduation requirements and to prepare for their transition out of high school:

We thank the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for strongly encouraging school districts to allow 21-year-old students to return for the 2020-21 school year to finish meeting graduation requirements and to receive the transition supports they need to move on to post-secondary opportunities. The guidance is an important first step towards ensuring that COVID-19 does not cause any student to lose their chance to earn a high school diploma or miss out on the support they need to transition out of high school.

We strongly urge the New York City Department of Education and districts across New York State to follow NYSED’s recommendation and provide all young people aging out without a diploma the opportunity to complete their education and prepare for life after high school. Districts should reach out to 21-year-old students and their families right away to let them know they can return. We agree with NYSED that “it would be a cruel injustice to pull the rug out from under these young adults who have worked so hard for so long,” and with the school year quickly coming to an end, this small group of students must know they will not be left behind.

Read the statement [PDF]

06.18.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to recent statements by City Council Members and the President of the Teamsters Union Local 237 about removing police from schools:

We support City Council Members’ call to move responsibility for school safety to the DOE and urge the City to remove all NYPD officers from schools, shifting funding to education and social services that will support a new vision of safety in schools. We must ensure all students – especially Black students, who are disproportionately harmed – are truly safe and supported in school.

Before schools closed due to the pandemic, the NYPD – instead of clinically trained mental health professionals – had already intervened in more than 2,250 incidents involving students in emotional crisis, and even handcuffed some of these students. Black students were most disproportionately harmed; 58% of the students handcuffed were Black, even though Black students are only 25% of the total NYC public school population.

When students return to classrooms, they will need to have schools where they face social workers and therapists instead of police, where they receive mental health supports and services instead of handcuffs, and where they are welcomed to a restorative, trauma-informed setting instead of greeted by metal detectors.

Read the statement [PDF]

Extended Eligibility Policy Brief thumbnail06.15.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief calling on the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to ensure that students aging out of school this month can return to high school next year so they do not lose their chance to earn a diploma. With the school year ending in just two weeks, NYSED must take action immediately to ensure that 21-year-old students who have struggled to access remote learning do not have their lives thrown entirely off course by the pandemic.

Students in New York State have the right to continue working towards a high school diploma until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. While more than 95% of students who graduate do so in four years, a small subset of students need five, six, or even seven years to complete the requirements for a diploma. Students who need more time to graduate are disproportionately students of color. In fact, Black students who graduate high school in New York State are seven times as likely as White students to need six years to do so, and Latinx graduates are 7.3 times as likely as their White peers to finish in their sixth year of high school.

Using data obtained from NYSED pursuant to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, the policy brief shows that there are approximately 3,700 students in New York State who will age out of school this year. Many of these students will graduate later this month, but those who have been unable to complete their coursework—a number estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,500 students statewide—will lose their chance to earn a diploma. Some of these students did not have access to needed technology for remote learning; others had to care for younger siblings or work to support their families when their parents abruptly lost their jobs.

The students aging out in June 2020 are disproportionately students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners:

  • Approximately three-quarters (74%) of students aging out are Black or Latinx, though Black and Latinx students comprise less than 45% of the total high school population in New York State;
  • Almost half (47%) of all students aging out have disabilities; and
  • One in three students aging out is learning English as a new language. 


“The young people aging out of school in two weeks are the same student populations who have been hardest hit by the pandemic itself and by the challenges of online learning,” said Ashley Grant, a Supervising Staff Attorney at Advocates for Children of New York and Coordinator of the statewide Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma. “COVID has already devastated Black and Latinx communities. It shouldn’t take away students’ chance to earn a high school diploma too.”

The brief calls on the New York State Education Department to issue guidance directing districts to allow all students aging out of school without a diploma to return to high school next year—a recommendation echoed by more than 100 organizations in a recent letter. Unless the State takes action, these young adults will be forced to leave school and enter a labor market in which nearly one in five Americans without a high school degree is unemployed.

“Students who need a sixth or seventh year to graduate have struggled in the past, overcome obstacles, and want to finish high school because they know how important a diploma is for their future,” said Deanna Wallace, who graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn at age 19 and now mentors middle and high schoolers who are over-age for their grade level. “After all their years of hard work, the State has two weeks to act to keep their dream alive.” 

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

05.19.2020 | In response to a complaint filed by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) have entered into a voluntary resolution agreement to ensure the provision and monitoring of translation and interpretation services to parents of New York City students with disabilities whose home language is not English. The agreement, signed in December 2019, came seven years after AFC and NYLPI filed the initial complaint with OCR concerning NYC DOE’s inadequate services.

The resolution agreement confirms the rights of Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents, under local, state and federal civil rights laws, to translation and interpretation services related to the special education services their children receive. In addition to acknowledging that LEP parents have a right to receive translations of special education documents – such as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Section 504 Plans and NYC DOE-funded evaluations – the resolution agreement is significant because it also states that the NYC DOE is responsible for informing families of their right to request these services, tracking translation and interpretation requests, and creating a centralized system for providing translated documents to families in all school districts in New York City. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for a centralized, effective system for providing and tracking translation and interpretation to parents of students with disabilities in the New York City public schools. Seven weeks after the closing of schools, there are LEP families and parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) who are still struggling to connect their children to remote learning and to special education services. Many of these families are not able to communicate with their schools unless the NYC DOE provides interpreters and translated materials. 

In response to AFC and NYPLI’s complaint, NYC DOE launched a pilot in 2018 for the centralized translation of IEPs, upon request by parents, in three of the City’s school districts. The resolution agreement states that this IEP translation pilot will inform the creation of a centralized system for all special education document translations. The IEP translation pilot remains in effect in Districts 9 and 24 and in special education District 75. 

“The agreement is not as strong as we had hoped, but it starts to move the school system in the right direction,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, Director of AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project. “It’s important for parents to know that they currently have a right to translations of special education documents, and they can make the request through their children’s individual schools. In light of the COVID-19 school closures and the active role parents are playing in their children’s remote education, it is more important than ever for parents to understand their children’s IEPs and special education needs.”

"We are grateful that after years of neglect, the NYC DOE has finally committed to providing parents who are Limited English Proficient with access to the document translation and meeting interpretation necessary to meaningfully participate in their children's education,” said Ruth Lowenkron, Director of the Disability Justice Program at NYLPI. “We will vigilantly monitor the agreement to ensure that the NYC DOE honors its commitment, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The full voluntary resolution agreement is available here.

View the press release [PDF]
View translated press release as a PDF: Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish

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]

04.28.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Department of Education (DOE)’s announced grading policy for the 2019-20 school year: 

While there is no perfect way to document the academic performance of students living in the epicenter of a pandemic, the grading policy announced today is disappointing in its failure to rethink our usual way of doing things in light of the unprecedented long-term closure of City schools. We are deeply concerned about the impact this policy will have on students who—through no fault of their own—have been unable to engage in remote learning. Thousands of students have had to wait weeks to receive a remote learning device from the DOE; they should not be punished for falling behind simply because their family cannot afford a computer, high-speed internet access, or the other resources necessary to rapidly transition to online schooling. 

The students whose academic records will reflect that they “need improvement” and who will be unable to earn course credit this semester will be those who are already marginalized and whose families are already being hit hardest by COVID-19: students whose parents are not proficient in the English language or who have low digital literacy; students who are living in homeless shelters or overcrowded apartments and lack a quiet spot to study; students whose days are now spent caring for younger siblings or ill family members; and students who are not receiving the same special education supports and services they typically receive at school.

The DOE must develop an intensive support structure and a long-term plan to ensure that all students who are struggling with remote learning can catch up. Receipt of such supports must recognize the uniquely challenging circumstances facing so many of our students and must not rely on remote learning over the summer when many students have fallen behind precisely because they are struggling to access remote instruction in the first place. The DOE must allow high school students to complete work from this school year at least until the end of the 2020-21 school year and must also allow students who are aging out of school this year to return for another year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma. 

We stand ready to work with the DOE and City Hall to ensure that students and families receive the support they need during this difficult time and that the response to the pandemic does not further magnify existing disparities

View the statement as a 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]

04.07.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the cancellation of the June Regents exams and the release of guidance from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) modifying graduation requirements for impacted students: 

AFC commends Chancellor Rosa, the Board of Regents, and the State Education Department for their decision to exempt students who were scheduled to take Regents exams this June from having to pass those assessments as a condition of high school graduation. This decision is good news for the thousands of students across New York State who are currently navigating unprecedented disruptions to their education. The guidance released today, which allows students in certain situations to demonstrate their readiness to graduate through passing course grades, ensures that students who are on track to earn a diploma will not be penalized for circumstances well beyond their control. Because many students are still struggling to access remote learning, it will be critical—especially once the current crisis has passed—that schools have the resources to provide young people with the additional academic and other support they will need to leave high school prepared for college and careers.

View the press release as a PDF

first page of report

01.30.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new report, Waiting for a Seat: The Shortage of Preschool Special Education Class Seats in New York City, showing a projected shortfall of between 1,028 and 1,932 preschool special education class seats for three- and four-year-old children with disabilities in New York City this spring.  This number does not include the projected need for hundreds of additional bilingual preschool special education class seats, which are calculated separately.

While many preschoolers with disabilities receive services in general education pre-K classes, children with more significant needs have a legal right to a seat in a preschool special education class with a certified special education teacher and a smaller student-to-staff ratio.  However, after years of under-investment by the State in preschool special education programs, New York is falling far short of providing all children with the classes they need.  In fact, 22 of the City’s 32 school districts have a shortage of preschool special education classes for the spring.  The need is particularly acute in the Bronx, with a projected need of at least 450 and up to as many as 798 seats in monolingual English classes, as well as additional seats in bilingual Spanish classes.

“We have heard from parents desperate for their preschoolers to get the help they need to learn to talk and walk, but who have been sitting at home for months waiting for a seat in a class,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC.  “Unless government leaders take immediate action, hundreds of children with autism and other disabilities will miss out on their mandated services this spring in violation of their civil rights, and we will squander this opportunity to provide support at the point in a child’s development when it is likely to be most effective.”

Over the past two years, the DOE has opened more than 1,000 additional preschool special class seats in an effort to address the shortage.  However, community-based organizations (CBOs), which run the majority of preschool special education classes, are struggling to keep their doors open and run high-quality programs as a result of the insufficient payment rate set by the State.  In particular, the rate makes it difficult to recruit and retain certified teachers who could earn far higher salaries at public schools and other early childhood education programs.

Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the State did not provide any increase in reimbursement rates for preschool special classes for six years, keeping the rate stagnant with no cost of living adjustments.  Since that time, the State has approved only a two percent increase each year —far less than the rate increase recommended by the New York State Education Department, New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, advocates, and providers to address the shortage of programs and help ensure there is a seat for every child who needs one.  In recent years, more than 60 preschool special education programs have closed around the State—many of them citing inadequate rates.

The budget proposal released this month by Governor Cuomo does not include any initiatives to help address this crisis.

"By the time Aiden got a seat, the teachers and therapists had to do double the work just to get him back up to speed,” said Janira Batista, a parent whose child had to wait eight months for a seat in a preschool special education class.  “Now that Aiden has spent time in his class, he interacts more with other children, he follows directions better, and he speaks in full sentences.  But no child should have to wait so long to get the help they need.”

“Every day that young children with disabilities sit on a waitlist instead of in class is a missed opportunity to intervene and prepare them for kindergarten,” said Randi Levine, AFC’s Policy Director.  “Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have been leaders in expanding early childhood education, and they must extend this commitment to preschoolers with disabilities this year.”

The report recommends that the State and the City take the following steps:

  1. New York State must increase the payment rate for preschool special classes by ten percent this year to help provide programs with the resources they need to recruit and retain teachers and run high-quality programs.  A rate increase is necessary to make up for under-investment in prior years and to prevent more CBOs from closing their preschool special classes and encourage them to open new classes to meet the outstanding need.

  2. New York City must ensure there is a preschool special class seat available for every child who needs one by opening new DOE classes or facilitating the opening of new classes at CBOs.  While the State needs to increase the payment rate for these classes, the City still has a legal obligation to provide a preschool special class seat for every child who needs one.  As such, the City must take steps to support the CBOs that the DOE is relying upon to provide preschool special classes including by extending the recently announced salary raises for early childhood education teachers to preschool special class teachers at CBOs.


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