facebooktwitterinstagramyoutube

Need Help?

Call AFC's Education Helpline
(866) 427-6033
Monday to Thursday
10 am to 4 pm 

Resource library: View AFC's guidebooks, fact sheets, and more

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.

Sign up

Receive email updates or text alerts from AFC.

News & Media

Press Releases

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

06.11.2019 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following statement in response to Governor Cuomo’s announcement that the State is approving only a two percent increase in rates for preschool special education programs for the 2019-2020 school year: 

New York State is currently violating the rights of children who need preschool special education classes. 

The State Education Department released a memo on May 29, 2019 showing that New York City alone needs 422 additional preschool special education class seats, as well as hundreds of additional seats in preschool special classes in integrated settings, for children with disabilities.  Yet, the very next week, the State announced it would approve a meager two percent rate increase for these programs—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.

“Hundreds of preschoolers are waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education programs,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “We have heard directly from dozens of families desperate for their preschoolers to get the help they need, but who have been sitting at home for months waiting for a seat.  The newly announced rate is grossly inadequate to address this crisis.”

“My child has already been waiting five months, and the district has told us there are no seats available until September,” said Christine Agosto, the parent of three-year-old Dillon, a child diagnosed with autism.  “My child needs help.  But he’s been at home all year instead of in class because there are not enough seats for the children who need them.”

Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the State did not provide any increase in reimbursement rates for preschool special classes or preschool special classes in integrated settings 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.  In recent years, more than 60 preschool special education programs have closed around the State—many of them citing inadequate rates.

AFC, along with 69 other organizations, issued the attached letter calling on the Governor to increase rates for preschool special education programs by at least five percent to address the shortage of programs.

“The State has pointed to declining enrollment numbers, but enrollment numbers don’t reflect the hundreds of children who are waiting for seats as programs continue to close,” said Randi Levine, Policy Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “Hundreds of preschoolers with disabilities are waiting for Governor Cuomo to take action.” 

View statement as a PDF
Read the letter to Governor Cuomo [PDF]

04.25.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the City’s Fiscal Year 2020 Executive Budget: 

We are pleased that the City is investing an additional $33 million to help support students with disabilities, including by hiring more school psychologists, creating additional programs for students in the early grades, and increasing the number of preschool special education class seats. We hear from families every day who are struggling to get the services their children need. We fully support the goal of creating more programs in public schools that will meet the needs of students with disabilities, including students with autism and students struggling to learn to read. We look forward to learning the details. 

Before the budget process concludes, we hope that Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will increase funding in the following areas to help students whose needs are often overlooked: 

Support for Students who are Homeless: We are pleased that the Mayor has baselined funding for 53 Bridging the Gap social workers at schools with high concentrations of students living in shelters, ending the annual budget dance and helping to ensure the long-term continuity of the program. But 53 social workers is woefully insufficient to meet the need. Currently, the City has 69 Bridging the Gap social workers, and there are still 100 schools with 50 or more students living in shelters and no Bridging the Gap social worker to focus on the needs of these students. The final budget must include funding for at least 100 Bridging the Gap social workers.

Direct Mental Health Support for Students: The City Council’s budget response called on the DOE to provide direct mental health support to students who need help the most through a school mental health continuum funded through ThriveNYC, as recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. The Council also called on the DOE to hire an additional 110 social workers for high-needs schools. These vital investments would ensure that more students get the direct mental health and behavioral services they need so they can remain in school supported and learning. However, the Executive Budget does not include funding for either of these priorities. 

Support for Students in Foster Care: For students placed in foster care, school can be a key source of stability. The City Council’s budget response called on the DOE to ensure that students in foster care receive bus service so they don’t need to switch schools due to lack of transportation. This week, more than 30 organizations sent a letter to the Mayor requesting funding for guaranteed bus service for K-6th grade students in foster care, as well as a DOE Office for Students in Foster Care, as there is currently not a single DOE staff member focused full time on this student population. However, the Executive Budget does not include funding for these priorities.

Practices That Improve School Climate: While the use of Restorative Practices in NYC schools has expanded over the last few years, most schools still do not have access to this evidence-based approach that keeps students safe, supported, and learning in school, while they grow from their mistakes. The City needs to invest in bringing Restorative Practices to every school — and do so with fidelity.

We look forward to working with the Mayor and the City Council as the budget process continues to ensure the final budget invests in these critical areas.

View statement as a PDF

03.27.2019 | Advocates for Children signed on to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Department of Commerce v. New York, challenging the proposed question on the 2020 census concerning citizenship status. The brief argues that including a citizenship question on the census will result in an undercount of immigrant communities. This undercount will result in the misallocation of education and community resource funding and harm students and their families. 

Read the amicus brief  [PDF
Read the news release [PDF]

02.27.2019 | In a decision received this week, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) found that Success Academy Charter Schools and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) violated the civil rights of students with disabilities. The decision [PDF] was issued in response to a complaint [PDF] that Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), with its pro bono co-counsel, Akin Gump, filed in November 2018 against Success Academy Charter Schools and the DOE. 

NYSED sustained each allegation, finding that Success Academy Charter Schools violated laws protecting the educational rights of students with disabilities. In particular:

  • Success Academy failed to implement students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The schools did not provide the special education classes, small group special education instruction, or testing accommodations that the students had the right to receive.
  • Success Academy changed the special education placements of students with disabilities without offering their parents an opportunity for input, failing to provide the legally mandated notices, meetings, and due process procedures. 
  • Success Academy failed to comply with orders issued at special education administrative hearings. Even after parents requested administrative hearings and got orders requiring Success Academy to move their students back to their original classes, Success Academy refused to comply, in violation of the law.

In addition, NYSED found that the DOE violated the rights of students with disabilities at Success Academy schools by failing to provide parents with the legally required notice before changes of special education placements and failing to ensure compliance with orders issued at special education administrative hearings. NYSED’s decision called the lack of coordination and communication between Success Academy schools and the DOE regarding Success Academy students with disabilities a “breakdown in the process.”  

NYSED issued a Compliance Assurance Plan, requiring Success Academy Charter Schools and the DOE to take corrective action to remedy these violations in the upcoming months.

“This decision makes clear that students do not give up their civil rights when they enter a charter school, and parents do not give up their voice in their children’s education,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC.  “Charter schools have more autonomy than other public schools, but do not get to decide which special education laws to follow.”

“The NYSED decision provides much-needed clarity as to the dual-responsibility of charter schools and the DOE to uphold the rights of students with disabilities,” said Caitlin Griffin, Associate at Akin Gump.

“My daughter was in the wrong special education placement at a Success school for over 7 months,” said Brenda Melendez-Lozada, the parent of a former student at Success Academy.  “With this decision, I hope that no other child will have to go through what she experienced.” 

Read the news release [PDF

Read the decision [PDF

Read the complaint [PDF]

02.07.2019 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following statement in response to the release of the City’s Fiscal Year 2020 Preliminary Budget:

The Preliminary Budget released today by Mayor Bill de Blasio would eliminate funding for the Department of Education’s Bridging the Gap social workers for students living in shelters.  Currently, there are 69 Bridging the Gap social workers who work in schools with high populations of students living in shelter, but the funding expires at the end of the school year.  For the past two years, the Mayor has omitted the funding from his Preliminary Budget, restoring the funding in his Executive Budget following an outcry from advocates and elected officials.  This year, the Mayor has, once again, omitted the funding from his Preliminary Budget.

“We are appalled that the Mayor continues to play budget games with critical supports for students living in shelters,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “With more than 100,000 students experiencing homelessness, the City should be increasing the number of Bridging the Gap social workers, not putting the continuation of the program in jeopardy.”

The Bridging the Gap social workers provide counseling to students who are homeless to help address the trauma often associated with housing loss, connect them to academic support and mental health services, and work to address chronic absenteeism.  

Since the 2010-2011 school year, the number of New York City students identified as homeless increased by 66%.  During the 2017-2018 school year, 114,659 students were identified as homeless by New York City school districts and charter schools.  More than 100 city schools have at least 50 students living in shelters and no Bridging the Gap social worker to focus on the needs of these students.  

View statement as a PDF

02.05.2019 | Ahead of a public hearing on proposed education funding in the New York state budget, the Safe and Supportive Schools Coalition urges lawmakers to expand support for school discipline reforms. Education advocates, community organizations and civil rights groups have called for an investment of $50 million dollars into school climate improvement measures, through legislation known as the Safe and Supportive Schools Act (A.1981/S.0767).

The Governor’s budget proposal included $3 million dollars for school discipline reform measures, including resources for teachers and school administrators to address student mental health, supports for alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and legislation to require school districts to reduce and regulate the role of police officers in schools. Education justice advocates welcome the Governor’s support but stress that the budget proposal must go further. 

Advocates call for the reforms to include a prohibition on suspending students in Kindergarten through third grade, an end to suspensions for minor infractions, a limit of 20 days for out-of-school suspensions, and an increase in positive behavioral supports and interventions for students.

A joint Senate and Assembly hearing on the education components of the state budget will take place in Albany on February 6. 

Rebecca Shore, Advocates for Children of New York: “While we are encouraged that the Governor included in his proposed budget funding for training teachers and school staff on alternatives to suspension, including restorative practices and positive behavioral supports, the proposed amount in the budget is not enough to meet the needs of the state.   An allocation of the recommended $50 million along with passage of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act is necessary.”

Read the press release [PDF]

The Safe and Supportive Schools coalition includes Advancement Project, Advocates for Children of New York, Alliance for Quality Education, Children’s Defense Fund, Citizen Action of New York, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, The Legal Aid Society, Make the Road New York, New York Civil Liberties Union, Student Advocacy, Urban Youth Collaborative and the YWCA of Brooklyn. 

11.29.2018 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York along with co-counsel Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP filed a complaint with the New York State Education Department against Success Academy Charter Schools and the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) for failing to comply with civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities who attend Success Academy schools.  The complaint alleges that Success Academy has changed the placements of students with disabilities without following procedures required to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents and has refused to comply with administrative hearing orders in special education cases.

Read the news release [PDF]

Read the complaint [PDF]