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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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Press Releases

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]

01.16.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York State Education Department (NYSED)’s release of high school graduation rates for the 2015 cohort: 

While we are pleased that graduation rates continue to trend in the right direction, the data released today illustrate troubling and persistent opportunity gaps across New York State. The drop-out rate for English Language Learners (ELLs) is more than four times the Statewide average: 27% of New York State’s ELLs—as well as more than one in four ELLs in New York City—leave high school without earning a diploma, compared to 6% of students overall. The Statewide drop-out rates for students experiencing homelessness (17%) and students in foster care (18%) are similarly disconcerting, while four-year graduation rates for students with disabilities trail those of their general education peers by more than 25 percentage points Statewide and by a full 30 percentage points in New York City. 

As the State reexamines graduation requirements over the next two years, it will be critical that the Board of Regents and NYSED keep these opportunity gaps a central focus. The increase in the number of students graduating via alternative pathways to a diploma—an increase largely attributable to greater use of the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Credential and the Language Other than English (LOTE) pathway—suggests there is a hunger for multiple, accessible pathways that allow students to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and readiness for life after high school without being forced to pass multiple high-stakes exit exams.

View the press release as a PDF

Early Inequities report cover12.05.2019 | 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]

11.04.2019 | 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

11.01.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the 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

11.01.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the 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

10.28.2019 | 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