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Press Releases

Cover image of interactive report, Access Still Denied08.23.2023 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) is releasing a new report, Access (Still) Denied: An Update on the Physical Inaccessibility of NYC Public Schools, finding that only 31.1% of schools are fully accessible to students, parents, educators, and community members with physical disabilities as of the start of the 2023-24 school year. The interactive report, which features a map that allows readers to explore the accessibility status of all school buildings operated by the Department of Education (DOE), calls on the City to invest $1.25 billion—roughly 5-6% of its capital budget—in the forthcoming five-year Capital Plan to improve school accessibility.

The current five-year Capital Plan, now in its final year, allocated $750 million for school accessibility projects. Access (Still) Denied updates AFC’s 2018 analysis of DOE data, highlighting both the progress that has been made thanks to this long-overdue investment, as well as how far New York City has yet to go to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The report finds:

  • Once the projects funded by the current Capital Plan are completed, just over one-third of schools will be fully accessible—meaning that, more than three decades after the ADA went into effect, nearly two-thirds of schools will not be fully accessible.

  • 38.8% of DOE schools are fully or functionally inaccessible (meaning they have no accessible classrooms and are thus not a true educational option for an individual who uses a wheelchair) and are not slated for accessibility-related upgrades under the 2020-2024 Capital Plan.

  • At least one-third of schools are fully accessible in eleven of the City’s 32 community school districts; once the accessibility projects currently in the pipeline are completed, as many as five additional districts will reach the 33% benchmark, and no district will fall below 10% full accessibility. This represents a significant improvement since 2018, when there were only four districts in which a third of schools were fully accessible, and one district had no accessible schools at all.

The ADA requires state and local governments to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to public programs and services, including public education. Yet the persistence of physical barriers in so many schools means that New Yorkers with disabilities continue to be excluded from buildings that are central to public life—not only students who are barred from attending their neighborhood school or school of choice, but also teachers and school staff whose employment opportunities are constrained by the lack of accessible bathrooms and classrooms; parents and grandparents who are unable to attend parent/teacher conferences or see their children and grandchildren perform in concerts or school plays; and community members unable to rely on school buildings for shelter and safety during extreme weather events.

This November, the DOE will propose its capital spending for the next five years, and the report urges the City to allocate at least $1.25 billion for improving school accessibility. This funding will enable the City to bring another 150 to 200 buildings to full accessibility by 2029, at which point 50% of all buildings that serve as the primary location for a school will be accessible.

“No child should be turned away from a school because the facilities are not accessible,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “As we approach the 40th anniversary of the ADA in 2030, the City should set ambitious goals to ensure this landmark civil rights law has real meaning in the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers with disabilities. The next Capital Plan should build on the progress that has been made and move us closer to a system in which all schools are fully accessible.”

“For years, my family has felt the impact of the limited accessibility of the City’s public schools, which have excluded and marginalized my daughter,” said Yuvi Espino, whose daughter Mia now attends a special education non-public school, in large part due to the challenges of finding an accessible public school to meet Mia’s needs. “Mia hasn't been able to attend many events at her younger sister’s school, which has been very upsetting for Mia, her sister, and our whole family. We must keep working toward the goal that all NYC DOE schools be accessible not only to students, but to their families and communities.”

The report is available at bit.ly/AccessDenied2023.

07.19.2023 | Today, Judge Loretta A. Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order in the class action, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education, compelling the New York City Department of Education to change its systems for complying with special education administrative orders. 

Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and pro bono co-counsel Milbank LLP filed the class action lawsuit in 2003, alleging that, after parents of children with disabilities received favorable orders in special education administrative hearings, the DOE was failing to implement the ordered remedies. The DOE settled the case in 2008, with the lawsuit ending if the DOE implemented most orders within 35 days. The DOE, however, failed to comply for more than a decade, and students continued to wait for ordered relief. 

"Families file hearings only as a last resort, after their child has already been denied the services or school placements they need to learn,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “To then wait months or years without ordered services or reimbursements adds insult to injury for students and their families, and in our experience can lead to further harm for the families.” 

At AFC and Milbank’s request, a Special Master was appointed in 2021 to investigate the DOE’s delays in implementation of hearing orders. In March 2022, the Special Master, David Irwin from Thru Consulting, issued his findings on the failures within the DOE’s hearing order implementation systems; the following year, the Special Master issued recommendations on DOE actions necessary for timely implementation of hearing orders. 

Today’s order by Judge Preska incorporates the changes to the DOE’s systems and internal structures that the Special Master recommended, and includes more than 41 required steps that the DOE must take with deadlines ranging from 2 months to a little over a year for the DOE to effect the changes.

Among other changes, the order requires the DOE to create a structure for parents to contact the DOE when their special education administrative hearing orders are not implemented, including a support hotline for order implementation; improve and build DOE technology systems for implementing hearing orders; and recruit and fund new staff to implement hearing orders.

“After enduring the lengthy and burdensome process of a hearing, families rightly expect their child will finally get the services they need—not months of stalling,” said Rebecca Shore, Director of Litigation at Advocates for Children of New York. “We are hopeful that Judge Preska’s order will mean students with disabilities finally receive the services that they need, at the time they are needed."

“AFC and Milbank have fought for decades to fix the Department of Education’s hearing order implementation system, and ultimately, secure vital services for all New York City students with disabilities,” said Jasper Perkins of Milbank LLP. “We cannot unwind decades of systemic failure, but we hope that the changes recommended by the special master’s report—and compelled by the court—will ensure no families endure the same neglect in the future.”

Read the press release as a PDF

06.26.2023 | Today, the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma—a group of more than 80 advocacy organizations, educators, and families from across New York State—released a research brief, It’s Time to #RethinkRegents Exams, in advance of the upcoming meeting of the NYS Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures. As the Commission discusses how best to measure students’ readiness for post-secondary life and develops its recommendations, the Coalition is calling on the State to end the practice of requiring students to pass five Regents exams in order to graduate from high school. 

The new brief summarizes existing literature to show that the State’s current policy is not grounded in research, has not benefited New York’s students, and puts the state out of step with the rest of the nation. For example:

  • A number of studies have found that exit exams can increase high school dropout rates, especially for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
  • There is no evidence that exit exams increase student achievement, raise the value of a high school diploma in the labor market, or convey other benefits to students who pass them; as a report commissioned by the State Education Department (SED) noted in 2022, exit exams are “not positively associated with any college or career outcomes.”
  • Rather than an impartial measure of student learning, standardized tests are an unreliable gauge of graduation-readiness. Research has found that factors as arbitrary as the weather can significantly affect a student’s performance on a Regents exam, while high school GPA is more strongly correlated with success in college than standardized test scores.
  • While exit exam requirements were once popular across the country, many states have reversed course in recent years, making New York one of just eight states that maintains such a policy.

“The role of the Regents exams has continually evolved and changed over the past 150 years,” said Sarah Part, Senior Policy Analyst at Advocates for Children of New York, the organization that coordinates the Coalition for Multiple Pathways. “We now know from research that exit exam policies like New York’s fail to improve the quality of teaching and learning—and risk causing significant harm to our students. It’s time for New York to once again rethink Regents exams and revise its graduation framework to meet the needs of the current era.”

Read the brief [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

thumbnail of first page of brief06.20.2023 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new brief, Rising Enrollment, Shrinking Support: The Urgent Need to Protect Programs for Immigrant Students Amidst Funding Threats. The brief shows the urgent need to reject proposed cuts and provide targeted investments to support immigrant students and families, including the more than 18,000 new students in temporary housing—most of whom are recently arrived immigrants—who have enrolled in New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) in the past year.

Rising Enrollment, Shrinking Support highlights key data points illustrating how NYCPS struggles to effectively educate English Language Learners (ELLs) and communicate with immigrant families, making such investments long overdue. For example:

  • The parents of an estimated 68,000 students do not speak English fluently and do not have broadband internet access at home, meaning they face significant barriers to accessing timely information about their children’s schools, especially given that most NYCPS communication for families occurs online and via email.
  • In 2022, ELLs dropped out of high school at more than three times the rate of their peers who entered the school system as fluent English speakers, while only 67% graduated in four years.
  • Even before the recent increase in immigration to New York City, the five boroughs were home to an estimated 3,015 newcomer immigrant youth who were high school age, did not yet have a diploma, and were not enrolled in school.

This year, in an attempt to create options for these older youth, the City launched new programs for recently arrived immigrant ELLs at six existing transfer schools in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. Transfer schools are designed to serve high school students who have fallen behind on credits, but previously only five of them—four of which are in lower Manhattan—focused on working with immigrant youth, making the new programs in the outer boroughs much needed. Unfortunately, however, these six schools have not received sufficient resources to provide the intensive academic and social-emotional support that newcomer youth typically need—such as bilingual social workers, training for school staff, and wrap-around supports from community-based organizations. And while there are more newcomer youth than ever who could potentially benefit from such programs, the Mayor’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024 takes no steps to fill the gap.

Moreover, the Mayor’s proposed budget would eliminate funding for two programs that are helping the newest New Yorkers navigate the public school system and access a quality education for their children: the immigrant family communications and outreach initiative, which is using multi-faceted approaches to help ensure parents who speak languages other than English can access timely information about their children’s schools, and Promise NYC, which is providing hundreds of children who are undocumented with access to subsidized childcare and early learning opportunities for which they would otherwise be ineligible due to immigration status.

“Investments in immigrant students and families are investments in the future of New York City, and right now, the need is greater than ever,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, Director of AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project. “This year’s budget must restore funding for programs that are on the chopping block and ensure schools have the resources they need to support older newcomer youth.”

As Mayor Adams and the City Council negotiate the final Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the brief calls for:

  • Restoration of funding for immigrant family communications and outreach so families can get key information about their children’s schools ($4M);
  • Extension of funding for Promise NYC ($20M to continue serving the same number of children for a full year); and
  • A $3M investment to bring the six new ELL programs at transfer schools in line with best practices for educating older newcomer youth.

Read the brief [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

thumbnail image of first page of data brief06.06.2023 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data analysis, Falling Short: NYC’s Failure to Provide Mandated Services for Preschoolers with Disabilities, showing that 37% of all preschoolers with disabilities—a total 9,800 children—went the entire 2021–22 school year without receiving at least one of the types of services the New York City Department of Education (DOE) was legally required to provide.  

The report analyzes DOE data and draws attention to systemic violations of students’ rights. For example:

  • More than 6,500 preschoolers who needed speech therapy did not have a single session of this service last year, representing 24.5% of all those recommended for monolingual speech therapy and 33% of those who needed bilingual speech services. Geographically, service shortages were widespread: in 26 of the City’s 32 community school districts, one in five preschoolers—or more—never received their mandated speech therapy.  
  • Roughly 1,300 preschoolers went the entire school year without special education itinerant teacher (SEIT) services (support to help include a child in a general education preschool class), representing 19% of all those who had this recommendation on their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • About 1,015 preschoolers who needed a small special education class were still waiting for a seat at the end of the 2021–22 school year.
  • No school district managed to fully serve even 85 percent of its preschoolers with disabilities enrolled in 3-K and Pre-K for All programs, let alone the 100 percent required by law. In five Brooklyn districts, over 40% of children in 3-K and Pre-K finished the year having never received at least one of their mandated service types.  

Moreover, these numbers likely significantly understate the magnitude of the problem. For reporting purposes, the DOE considers children “fully” served if they had one session of a given service at some point during the school year, failing to capture children who waited months for their services to begin.

“These services are not optional; they are legal requirements, and they are critical to the development of young children,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “The Mayor’s proposed budget would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the education budget while the DOE is failing to comply with a decades-old federal civil rights law. Instead of cutting funding, the City must make the investment needed to hire enough special education teachers, service providers, and evaluators to meet its basic legal obligations to preschoolers with disabilities.”

In December 2022, Mayor Adams committed to providing a preschool special education class seat for every child who needed one by the spring of 2023, as the City is legally required to provide. While the City has opened enough new classes to serve nearly 700 children, there are still more than 300 preschoolers waiting for a seat in the special education class they need. With respect to children needing the support of a part-time special education teacher in their 3-K or pre-K class or services like speech or physical therapy, we have heard from numerous parents in recent months who have been told by DOE administrators that there are no special education teachers or service providers available at the agencies the DOE relies on to serve most preschoolers. As one administrator recently wrote to a parent: “I contact and follow up with agencies each week and at this time they are not responding to my email requests.”

“We have had even more difficulty this year getting services in place for preschoolers with disabilities whose parents contact us,” said Betty Baez Melo, Director of AFC’s Early Childhood Education Project. “It is heartbreaking and extraordinarily frustrating for parents when months and months go by and their children are still not receiving the help that everyone agrees they need.”  

“The school year is almost over and my son is still waiting for the DOE to find a speech therapist to come to his 3-K program,” said Jordan Bell, the father of a 3-year-old who went months without any speech therapy and is still not receiving his full IEP recommendation. “I first asked for my son to be evaluated for services in April 2022, but was told to wait until he started 3-K. In January, the DOE agreed he needs speech therapy, but couldn’t find a therapist to work with him. Since April, I’ve been bringing my son to a school on Saturdays so he can at least get one of his two weekly speech sessions, but it’s just not enough. My son is struggling to participate in class because it is hard for his teacher and classmates to understand him. I’ve asked the DOE for help again and again. If there aren’t enough speech therapists, then the City needs to hire more.”

“It’s unconscionable that almost 10,000 preschoolers did not receive all of their special education services last year,” said Council Member Rita Joseph, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Education. “We know this failure to support our youngest learners will only increase costs for the City in the long run, and we must act now. I look forward to partnering with the Administration to make sure there are enough service providers to meet the needs of every student with a disability.”

Read the data analysis
View the press release as a PDF

05.09.2023 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the Chancellor’s announced changes to literacy instruction in New York City Public Schools: 

Parents count on schools to teach their children how to read, but New York City’s approach to literacy instruction and curriculum selection hasn’t been working for students or for educators. While no elementary English Language Arts curriculum is perfect—and any curriculum is only as good as its implementation—the City has a responsibility to ensure that schools are using research-based programs, that the curriculum reflects the rich diversity of the student population, and that teachers have the materials and training they need to be successful in the classroom. Establishing consistency within schools and within districts won’t solve all the problems, but it is an important step in the right direction. The choice of reading curriculum is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to strengthening core instruction and scaling change system wide. The plans announced today will help ensure schools abandon ineffective practices, enable districts to provide more robust support to schools and teachers around implementation, and help move us towards a system in which every child gets the quality instruction they need to become a strong reader.

View the statement as a PDF

04.26.2023 | 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 2024 Executive Budget: 

We are relieved that the Executive Budget released today restores $3.3 million for shelter-based DOE Community Coordinators—staff who are playing a critical role in tackling chronic absenteeism and connecting students living in shelter with educational supports. Of the 100 Coordinators hired this year, 25 are supported with City funding that was scheduled to expire at the end of June. We are pleased that the Executive Budget extends funding for this program, particularly in light of the recent increase in the number of students who do not have permanent housing.

In other respects, however, this budget fails to make the investments our students need and threatens the success of several key education initiatives that are just getting off the ground. Slashing funding for programs and services that support our young people should be completely off the table at a time when New York City is receiving increased education funding from the State and has unspent COVID-19 relief. 

We are concerned that the Mayor is proposing to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from our City’s schools at a time when there are so many unmet needs. Last year, for example, 40% of students were chronically absent; more than one in seven English Language Learners dropped out of high school; and nearly 10,000 preschoolers with disabilities did not receive all their mandated special education services. To the extent that the NYC Public Schools can find savings in its current budget, that money should be reinvested to provide services for preschoolers with disabilities, bolster transfer school programs for ELLs, and expand restorative practices to keep students in school. 

We are particularly dismayed that the Executive Budget would cut funding for three education initiatives that were launched with City funding set to expire just over two months from today. In March, over 60 organizations called on the Mayor to extend funding for these programs, which are providing critical support to students and families:

  • The Mental Health Continuum, an innovative cross-agency partnership to help students at 50 high-needs schools access expedited mental healthcare;
  • Multi-faceted approaches to immigrant family communications and outreach that are helping ensure parents who speak languages other than English get the information they need about their children’s education; and
  • Promise NYC, which is giving young children who are undocumented access to child care and early learning opportunities. 

With the recent increase in the number of newly arrived immigrant families, as well as the ongoing youth mental health crisis, the need for these programs is greater than ever. If anything, the City should be increasing funding—not placing these programs on the chopping block. We appreciate that the City Council included the Mental Health Continuum, immigrant family communications, and Promise NYC in their response to the preliminary budget. In the coming months, we hope that Mayor Adams and the City Council will restore funding for these programs, reject proposed cuts, and invest funding to meet additional needs in our school communities. 

View statement as a PDF

03.21.2023 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released the following statement in response to the release of the New York City Department of Education (DOE)’s preschool special education data report for the 2021–22 school year:

Today, the DOE posted new data showing that 37% of preschoolers with disabilities—a total 9,800 children—did not receive all their mandated special education services during the 2021–22 school year, a notable increase from the prior year, when 30% of preschoolers were not fully served. For example:

  • More than 6,500 preschoolers who needed speech therapy did not have a single session of this service before the end of the year, including 33% of all children needing bilingual speech therapy.
  • 26% of preschoolers recommended for physical therapy, and 28% of those needing occupational therapy, never received it.
  • Almost 1,300 children never received their mandated part-time special education teacher (SEIT) services, representing 19% of all preschoolers with this recommendation.

Importantly, these numbers only reflect those children who had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place by the end of the school year—and the data show that many preschoolers who were referred for evaluation due to concerns about their development had to wait months to get an IEP or never even made it that far into the process, with notable disparities by race. For example:

  • 13% of Black preschoolers and 12% of Latinx preschoolers who were referred for the first time in 2021–22 had their cases closed without an IEP meeting ever taking place, compared to 7% of White preschoolers.
  • 20% of Black children and 21% of Latinx children who were found eligible for preschool special education for the first time waited more than 60 days (the legal deadline) after consenting to evaluations for an IEP meeting to be held to determine what services would be appropriate, while 11% of White preschoolers did not have an IEP meeting in a timely manner.

While data for the current school year are not publicly available, we know from our work with families that long delays and legal violations remain common during this critical period in children’s development. Failing to provide these services has long-term ramifications for both individual students and for the City as a whole; when preschoolers with disabilities do not receive the help they need early in life, many will require more intensive—and expensive—interventions once they reach elementary school.    

“This winter, AFC has heard the same story from parent after parent: months into the school year, their preschooler is still waiting for mandated services to start, because the DOE has been unable to find a provider,” said Betty Baez Melo, Director of AFC’s Early Childhood Education Project. “In some cases, families are unable to even start the process of getting support in place for their child, because they cannot get an appointment for an evaluation.” 

Advocates for Children is urging New York City to invest $50 million in the upcoming budget to increase access to timely preschool special education evaluations and related services. The City should take steps such as launching more DOE evaluation teams; hiring more DOE service providers and teachers, rather than relying on outside agencies; and increasing payment rates for contracted providers to ensure children, including those who need bilingual services and those in underserved communities, receive their services where they go to preschool. 

“As policymakers consider next steps for early childhood education in New York City, they can’t forget that truly including children with disabilities in 3-K and pre-K programs means providing them with the support they need to be successful in these programs,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “This year’s budget should make the necessary investments to ensure preschoolers are not left waiting for the evaluations and services they have a right to receive.”

“It’s unconscionable that almost 10,000 preschoolers did not receive all of their special education services last year,” said Council Member Rita Joseph, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Education. “We know this failure to support our youngest learners will only increase costs for the City in the long run, and we must act now. I look forward to partnering with the Administration to make sure there are enough service providers to meet the needs of every student with a disability.”

View statement as a PDF

03.20.2023 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following statement in response to the release of the New York City Department of Education (DOE)’s special education data report for the 2021–22 school year: 

While the DOE has made notable progress over the past five years towards ensuring that school-aged students with disabilities receive the services mandated by their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) by the end of the school year, the latest annual report shows that troubling gaps remain. As a key example, the City is frequently out of compliance when it comes to serving students with disabilities who are learning English as a new language: 

  • 32% of English Language Learners (ELLs) who were referred and found eligible for special education for the first time last year waited more than two months for an IEP meeting to be held—and thus for additional supports to be put in place to help them learn.
  • Just 36% of students who needed bilingual special education instruction (e.g., bilingual SETSS or a bilingual class) were fully served in 2021–22, while nearly two-thirds (64%, more than 3,100 students) did not fully receive their special education program. By comparison, 88% of all students with disabilities Citywide fully received their mandated instruction last year, while 12% were not fully served. 
  • 13% of students who needed bilingual speech therapy did not have a single session of this service last year, compared to 3% of those recommended for monolingual speech therapy. More than one in five students whose IEP mandated bilingual counseling (21%) never received this service, more than three times the rate for monolingual counseling (6%). 

We appreciate that for the first time the DOE reported disaggregated data on bilingual special education instruction, as these statistics provide clear evidence that AFC’s on-the-ground experience reflects systemic problems: we often work with students whose IEPs recommend a bilingual special education class, but who have not been offered such a placement by the DOE. 

“With the recent increase in the number of recently-arrived immigrant students, some of whom will be identified as having disabilities and will need bilingual special education services in the months ahead, it is more urgent than ever that the City address the longstanding shortage of bilingual service providers and bilingual special education teachers,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, director of AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project. 

Many of the districts that had particularly low compliance rates for bilingual related services last year are the same districts where asylum-seeking children and families are now concentrated, including district 2 in Manhattan and district 28 in Queens (where 40% and 39%, respectively, of students who needed bilingual speech therapy in 2021–22 never received it). As the City begins to negotiate new contracts for teachers and service providers, the time is ripe to ensure there are incentives in place to attract bilingual special education teachers and bilingual providers to the schools where they are most needed. 

View statement as a PDF

thumbnail image of report cover page01.25.2023 | January 25, 2023 (New York, NY) — Each year, roughly 7,500 New York City students spend time in foster care. This group has historically been overlooked in school reform efforts, despite having some of the most complex educational needs and bleakest academic outcomes of any student population. 

Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new report, Building on Potential: Next Steps to Improve Educational Outcomes for Students in Foster Care, providing an overview of the current — and dire —state of education for students in foster care in New York City. The report, which analyzes City data obtained through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, finds:

  1. Over 40% of students in foster care are classified as students with disabilities, more than twice the Citywide rate, and they are over-represented in segregated special education settings.
  2. During each of the 2016–17 through 2020–21 school years, roughly half of all students in foster care were chronically absent; between one in six and one in nine students in care missed more days of school than they attended.
  3. Pre-pandemic, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) issued suspensions to students in foster care at almost four times the rate at which it issued suspensions to City students overall.
  4. Students in foster care in grades 3–8 are more than twice as likely to receive the lowest possible score on the New York State tests—meaning they are performing significantly below grade level—than they are to score proficient. According to the 2017, 2018, and 2019 exams, nearly 85% of students in care are not proficient in math and four out of five are not reading proficiently.
  5. Only 40.2% of students who entered ninth grade in 2017 and spent time in foster care while in high school graduated in four years, less than half the Citywide rate; one in five students with foster care experience during high school dropped out, more than quadruple the Citywide rate.
  6. Academic outcomes for students in foster care who transfer schools during the year are even more alarming: of students who started 9th grade in 2017, spent time in the foster system while in high school, and transferred schools two or more times, a greater percentage dropped out (27.3%) than earned a diploma (only 18.2%) in four years.

“When the City removes a child from their home, the child is separated from parents, siblings, pets, and other loved ones, and often placed in an unfamiliar neighborhood with caregivers who are complete strangers,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “No matter the circumstances, this is a deeply disruptive and traumatic event in a young person’s life, making access to a stable, sound education tremendously important."

Even though New York City has legal custody of children in foster care and has assumed responsibility for their well-being, this population has frequently been overlooked. Indeed, until recently, there was not a single staff member at the DOE focused solely on students in the foster system. This past fall, the DOE took the crucial step of hiring a small team of staffers dedicated to supporting students in foster care, representing an important opportunity to begin to turn the tide for how the City educates this group of students. Today's report makes recommendations for how New York City can better support students in foster care now that this new team is up and running.

“If this group of students comprised their own school district, it would be larger than almost 90% of all other districts in New York State,” said Erika Palmer, Supervising Attorney at AFC. “But it would be a district in which barely one in five students is reading proficiently; less than half graduate high school in four years; and 38% of older youth are absent from school more often than they attend.”

As the report shows, a top priority for the DOE’s new Foster Care Team should be providing training for educators and school staff that increases their capacity to understand and address the unique needs of youth in the foster system. Other key recommendations from the report include guaranteeing door-to-door transportation for students in foster care; improving communication between schools, families, and foster care agencies; ensuring parents, foster parents, and agency staff have timely access to education records for students in foster care; ensuring students in foster care can access school-based behavioral and mental health services; and using trauma-informed practices and alternatives to suspension in schools. Given the importance of having accurate data when developing solutions to address the issues raised in this report, the report also recommends amending the City’s education data reporting laws to include students in foster care as a distinct group, as a recently introduced City Council bill would require.

“Having served as a foster parent and as an educator, I know all too well the challenges faced by children in foster care, and I take the troubling findings of this new report very personally,” said Council Member Rita Joseph, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Education. “It’s clear we need to shine a light on educational outcomes for students in the foster system, and I look forward to moving forward the bill I introduced last month to require the DOE to publicly report data on students in foster care when they report on other student groups.”

“Youth in the foster system have enormous potential that too often goes unrealized because the systems charged with their care and education have failed to meet their needs,” said Erika Palmer. “The dire trends we see in attendance, exclusionary discipline, and academic achievement are by no means inevitable, and we’re excited to work with the DOE’s new Foster Care Team to make NYC’s schools a model of support for students in foster care. Youth in care deserve nothing less.” 

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