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Press Releases

07.08.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the NYC Department of Education’s release of its plan for using its historic influx of funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act:

We appreciate that the City is using American Rescue Plan funding to pay for some important initiatives including investing in early literacy and preschool special education, developing new curriculum, and adding hundreds of social workers to our schools.  We look forward to seeing the full plan, as the details matter.  Every dollar is needed, and it’s important to ensure every dollar is spent wisely.

For example, with respect to the new universal curriculum, we want to ensure that it is both culturally responsive and grounded in the science of reading. While we appreciate the focus on literacy, we want to ensure schools will not only screen students in reading, but will provide the targeted, evidence-based instruction they need to become proficient readers.

At a time when school leaders have their hands full working to return to full-time in-person learning, it will be important for the DOE to provide substantial support and direction to help schools get effective intervention programs off the ground.  The DOE must ensure these programs provide the specialized support needed for students with disabilities, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students who are homeless or in foster care—students who were disproportionately impacted by the closure of school buildings and who are specifically named in the American Rescue Plan Act.    

With respect to students with disabilities, we are still waiting for the DOE to release a plan for make-up special education services for students with disabilities without requiring each individual family to request and litigate an administrative hearing, which can take months and sometimes years.  Families want to know how their children will get all the special education instruction and services they need to make up for what they lost during the pandemic—services they have a legal right to receive.

ELLs and immigrant students, whose needs the DOE had not been meeting prior to COVID-19, struggled to engage and learn during the pandemic.  While the DOE has allocated funding for ELLs and immigrant students, the current plan does not include funding for targeted academic enrichment, tutoring, or English language instruction for ELLs who did not receive their full set of English as a New Language or bilingual instruction during the past year.  We encourage the DOE to create a plan, beyond just teacher training, for schools to provide intensive academic and language enrichment specifically to ELLs and immigrant students, which can include Saturday programs, extended day services, and small group tutoring.

We look forward to working with the DOE to ensure all students get the support they need following the disruption and devastation of the pandemic.

View the press release as a PDF

06.30.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the announcement of the Fiscal Year 2022 city budget agreement:

Following 15 months of unprecedented disruption in public education, we are pleased that the final budget includes a number of education investments originally announced in the Mayor’s budget proposal—such as special education services, preschool special education, social workers, and 100% Fair Student Funding—as well as new investments in literacy curriculum and integrated mental health support for students.

But with $7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding coming to the DOE, we believe the City should have done more to target the needs of the students we work with every day. Today’s budget agreement reflects missed opportunities to address longstanding inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, while also leaving us with insufficient information about how the DOE will use a significant portion of the $7 billion.

Funding for English Language Learners and Students who are Homeless, in Foster Care, or in Juvenile Detention: We are deeply disappointed that the final budget does not allocate any of the DOE’s historic influx of state and federal funding for targeted programs or services to support English Language Learners, students who are homeless, students in foster care, or students in juvenile detention—students who were hit particularly hard by the closure of school buildings during the pandemic and will need extra help in the coming year.  Since much of the federal funding is still allocated in broad, undefined categories, left to the discretion of the Administration and DOE to decide how to spend, we, along with our coalition partners, continue to call on the City to invest:

  • $100 million for targeted support for English Language Learners, many of whom did not receive legally required English as a New Language or bilingual instruction during the pandemic, and $45 million for a multilingual communications and outreach plan to communicate with immigrant families and those whose primary language is not English.
  • $20 million to hire DOE community coordinators to work on the ground in shelters to help students who are homeless reconnect with school and access educational supports.
  • $1.5 million for a DOE office focused on students in foster care and $5 million to guarantee bus service for students in foster care so they can maintain school stability.  Currently, the DOE does not have a single staff member focused on meeting the unique needs of students in foster care.
  • $5 million to expand access to Career and Technical Education, College and High School Equivalency, and Vocational Programs for students in juvenile detention.


Special Education Services:
While there is federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated for make-up special education services for students with disabilities, the DOE has still not released a plan for how it will provide these services.  Families want to know how their children will get the special education instruction and services they need to make up for what they lost during the pandemic—services they have a legal right to receive.

Literacy: We appreciate the investment of $27 million for evidence-based literacy curriculum to help ensure NYC students learn to read, but this amount falls short of the $50 million recommended by the City Council and advocates.  In addition, the budget does not include any additional funding for evidence-based literacy interventions for students who need additional support in reading.  Every year, AFC hears from hundreds of families concerned that their students are not learning to read within NYC public schools, and the data show that less than half of 3rd through 8th graders are reading proficiently with alarming disparities based on race, disability, and housing status.

Mental Health and Social-Emotional Support: We appreciate the investments of funding for 500 new school social workers and $5 million for the Mental Health Continuum, a model for providing intensive, integrated mental health supports in high-needs schools.  The Mental Health Continuum model includes school partnerships with hospital-based mental health clinics, a call-in center to advise school staff about students in crisis, mobile response teams with mental health professionals who respond to students in crisis, direct mental health services, school-based mental health clinicians, and whole-school training in Collaborative Problem Solving, an evidence-based, skill-building approach.  However, we are deeply disappointed that the budget invests only $12 million of the federal COVID-19 relief funding in restorative justice, far less than the $53 million the Council had recommended or the $118.5 million needed for expansion to 500 high schools this year.

Preschool Special Education: We appreciate that the budget includes a new investment in preschool special education.  But, with 1,200 children waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education classes as of the end of the last school year, we are disappointed that the budget does not include funding to address the shortage of preschool special education classes until Fiscal Year 23 and does not extend salary parity to teachers of preschool special education classes even in FY 23.  3-K and Pre-K will never be “for all” until the City addresses the shortage of preschool special education classes.

Even in our darkest days, education has always been our best hope.  For a just and equitable recovery, the City must ensure the federal COVID-19 relief funding meets the needs of all City students—especially those most impacted by the pandemic who need specialized support more than ever this year.  We will keep advocating as the DOE finalizes its plan.

View the press release as a PDF

06.09.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following response to the NYC Department of Education’s first release of preschool special education data required pursuant to Local Law 21 of 2020:

Data released by the DOE show that at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 1,215 preschoolers with disabilities were waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education classes in violation of their legal rights.  While the City and State have been expanding seats in general education prekindergarten classes, they have not met their basic legal obligation to provide preschool special education classes for children with disabilities who need them.

“The City and State continue to expand prekindergarten while preschoolers with the most significant needs are stuck waiting for seats in violation of their legal rights,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “Parents of students with disabilities want to know why their children always come last.”

“The State and the City must end this civil rights violation,” said Randi Levine, AFC’s Policy Director.  As a first step, before the NYS legislative session ends, the State Legislature should take action to help stop preschool special education programs run by community-based organizations from closing—a significant contributing factor to the shortage of seats.  A. 8013 (Benedetto)/ S. 6516-A (Mannion) would provide preschool special education programs with a payment rate increase on par with the total school aid increase the Legislature approved for school districts—following years of underinvestment in preschool special education programs.  While the NY State Education Department requested a 7% increase for preschool special education programs, on par with the increase for school districts, the State Division of Budget has approved only a 4% increase.

On the City level, while we are pleased that the Mayor included funding in his budget proposal for preschool special education, including funding to open new integrated preschool classes and hire inclusion specialists in the coming year, none of the initiatives to address the shortage of preschool special education classes would take effect until the 2022-2023 school year—leaving preschoolers with the most significant disabilities waiting another year.  Furthermore, two years ago, the City reached an early childhood “salary parity” agreement to pay prekindergarten teachers at community-based organizations the same starting salaries as public school teachers as of October 2021, but excluded teachers of preschool special education classes from this agreement, leading preschool special class teachers to flock to other settings and leaving children with disabilities without teachers.  The City must commit to salary parity for preschool special class teachers in the final budget this year.

“We continue to hear from families desperate for help because their children with autism or other complex disabilities have no preschool seats available at the time in their lives when intervention can have the greatest impact,” said Kim Sweet.  “It’s time for the City and State to listen and respond.”

View the press release as a PDF

first page of data brief06.03.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data brief, Police Response to Students in Emotional Crisis: A Call for Comprehensive Mental Health and Social-Emotional Support for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF], exploring data on police response to more than 12,000 incidents between July 2016 and June 2020 involving a student in emotional distress removed from class and transported to the hospital for psychological evaluation—what the New York Police Department (NYPD) terms a “child in crisis” intervention. Mirroring broader trends in policing, a disproportionate share of these interventions involved Black students, students attending New York City Department of Education (DOE) District 75 special education schools, and students attending schools located in low-income communities of color. The brief calls on the City to end the criminalization of students in emotional crisis by eliminating police from schools and invest in a comprehensive, integrated system of school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral and mental health supports and services that will promote well-being and equity for all students and school staff.

The new brief is an update to AFC’s November 2017 report, Children in Crisis, which examined NYPD data on such interventions during the 2016-17 school year, the first full year for which data were publicly available pursuant to the Student Safety Act. In subsequent years, the number of child in crisis interventions only increased: during the first three quarters of the 2019-20 school year—the months prior to the closure of school buildings due to COVID-19—the number of child in crisis interventions was approximately 24% higher than the equivalent time period in 2016-17. Overall, almost half of all interventions during the past four school years involved children between the ages of 4 and 12, and in 297 instances, the NYPD handcuffed a student who was under the age of 13, including three 5-year-olds, seven 6-year-olds, and 23 7-year-olds.

Our analysis finds that Black students—particularly Black boys—and students with disabilities attending District 75 special education schools are dramatically over-represented in the population of students for whom an emotional crisis at school leads to an interaction with the police and removal to the hospital emergency room, as well as those handcuffed during these incidents. Between July 2018 and March 2020:

  • More than a quarter (26.7%) of child in crisis interventions involved Black boys, who were only 13% of the public school population; Black girls comprised 12.4% of overall enrollment but 20.1% of those subject to child in crisis interventions. 
  • More than one out of every three (36.7%) students handcuffed while in emotional crisis was a Black boy; Black girls subject to these interventions were handcuffed at twice the rate of White girls. 
  • Of the children between the ages of 4 and 12 who experienced a child in crisis intervention during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, more than half (51.8%) were Black. 
  • At least 9.1% of all child in crisis interventions occurred in District 75 schools, even though District 75 enrolled only 2.3% of New York City students. More than one out of every five (21.3%) students handcuffed while in crisis was a student with a disability in District 75.

The data also show that law enforcement intervened in student mental health crises at significantly higher rates, relative to total enrollment, at schools in the Bronx, central Brooklyn, parts of midtown Manhattan, and southeast Queens, as compared to schools elsewhere in the five boroughs. Overall, nearly a third (32.7%) of all child in crisis interventions between July 2016 and June 2020 occurred in just ten of the City’s 77 police precincts—eight in the Bronx, along with the precincts encompassing Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn—even though schools located in those precincts enrolled less than a fifth of City students. Together, just two Bronx precincts—the 42nd and the 48th, which cover Morrisania, East Tremont, Belmont, and West Farms—handcuffed more children between the ages of 5 and 12 than all sixteen precincts in Queens combined.

“Students in emotional crisis need emotional support; they don’t need to be criminalized and handcuffed,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “As a city, we need to start treating all students as we want our own children to be treated.”

“Police responses are extremely traumatic for the student, their peers, and all school staff who witness the police intervention,” said Jennifer Finn, a special education teacher and member of Teachers Unite. “It is impossible to justify the use of law enforcement when a student needs emotional and behavioral support.”

The brief makes a number of recommendations for transforming the City’s response to children in emotional crisis and building the DOE’s capacity to provide effective behavioral and mental health supports to students. Among other recommendations detailed in the report, the City should:

  • Stop calling 911, the police, or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to take students to the hospital emergency room when medically unnecessary; 
  • Enact Intro 2188, a bill pending in the City Council that would significantly curtail the NYPD’s ability to handcuff students in emotional crisis; 
  • Hire more clinically-trained mental health staff in schools or in organizations partnered with schools; 
  • Include $118 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget to fund the full implementation of restorative practices; 
  • Invest $15 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget for an integrated system of targeted and intensive supports and services for students with significant mental health needs, such as through the Mental Health Continuum recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, the City Council, and the Comptroller; 
  • Staff the Borough Offices and District 75 with additional behavior specialists to provide direct support to schools struggling to address student behavior; and 
  • Expand inclusive school program options for students with emotional, behavioral, or mental health disabilities. 

“As a parent of a student with a disability and a Council Member in the Bronx, I am horrified by the idea that police are handcuffing students when they are in emotional crisis and that this is disproportionately impacting students with disabilities, Black children, and students in the Bronx,” said City Council Member Diana Ayala. “I have heard directly from impacted parents about how traumatic this experience is for their children. We must immediately pass Int. 2188, which outlines steps police must take before intervening when a student is in crisis and significantly limits their ability to handcuff these children.”

“Given the trauma that so many students have experienced over the past year and a half, it is more critical than ever that the DOE invest in public health alternatives to police interventions and 911 calls,” said Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project. “None of us would head to a police precinct for mental health care for ourselves or our children—nor should we rely on police to address children’s emotional needs at school.”

Read the data brief [PDF]
View the news release as a PDF


cover page of policy brief05.20.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief, Turning the Page on Literacy Instruction in NYC Schools, highlighting racial disparities in reading proficiency rates and calling on the City to invest part of its $7 billion in federal COVID-19 education funding in a comprehensive effort to revamp the way it provides reading instruction to all students and offer targeted interventions to those who need extra support.

The City’s current approach to literacy instruction has failed to ensure that our schools fulfill one of their most fundamental responsibilities: teaching children how to read. According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more New York City students are reading below a basic level than are reading proficiently. In addition:

  • Only 16.7% of Black fourth graders and 18.1% of Hispanic fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading on the NAEP in 2019, compared to 40.9% of White fourth graders and 45.6% of Asian fourth graders.
    .
  • Only 3.5% of Black fourth graders with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 4.4% of Hispanic fourth graders with IEPs scored at or above proficient on the 2019 NAEP, while more than eight out of ten were reading below a basic level.
    .
  • At more than 150 New York City schools, less than a quarter of students in grades 3-8 scored proficient on the most recent state reading test; these schools are particularly concentrated in the central and south Bronx and in Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, as displayed in a map in the report. 


“Year after year, AFC hears from hundreds of parents whose children are struggling with reading and can’t get the help they desperately need at their public schools,” said Maggie Moroff, AFC’s special education policy coordinator. “We regularly work with middle and high school students who are still non-readers, unable to read picture books to their younger siblings, let alone age-appropriate books or their school textbooks.”

These outcomes are not inevitable. Research—along with AFC’s own experience seeing such students make massive gains when we take legal action to help them obtain intensive private tutoring or a specialized private school placement—shows that nearly all children, including those with disabilities, can learn to read when they are taught appropriately. But many schools continue to use curricula that are not aligned with the scientific evidence on reading development, while far too many teachers have never received the training and support they need to effectively translate research into practice and help their students become literate.

“My greatest concern was always my son’s reading,” said Gina Zelaya, the parent of a student with a disability. “Year after year, he struggled to learn to read. At every meeting with the school, I asked for more help and was told they were doing all they could. Even after I shared an evaluation with the school explaining the type of reading support he needed, the school said they didn’t have it and couldn’t offer it to my son. By the time he was in 5th grade, he was still unable to read. I felt I had no choice but to look for support for him outside his school.” 

With a historic influx of federal and state education funding headed to New York City, now is the time to turn the page on literacy instruction and ensure all children learn to read. Mayor de Blasio’s budget for the coming school year proposes using $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding for “academic recovery and student supports,” and the City is currently in the process of determining how it will use this funding. The report recommends the City invest: 

  • $50 million for evidence-based, culturally responsive reading curricula for core instruction, as recommended in the City Council’s response to the preliminary budget, to ensure all students receive the explicit, systematic instruction in foundational literacy skills that research shows is essential.
    .
  • $150 million to provide targeted one-on-one or small-group intervention, delivered by well-trained professionals, to students who need more help learning to read. We estimate that there are more than 100,000 students in grades 3-12 who could significantly benefit from evidence-based intervention.


“New York City should seize this opportunity to make long-overdue investments in literacy curriculum and interventions,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “As our schools recover from the pandemic, we cannot return to ‘normal,’ when ‘normal’ was not teaching our students how to read.”

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

05.04.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and The Legal Aid Society released a report highlighting the urgent need for the Department of Education (DOE) to launch a small office focused solely on the needs of students in foster care. Currently, the DOE does not have an office, team, or even a single staff member dedicated to supporting youth in foster care, a group of students particularly in need of specialized support. 

The approximately 6,000 New York City students who spend time in foster care during any given school year – who are disproportionately Black and come from the City’s poorest communities – face enormous educational challenges. For example:

  • Only 42.2% of New York City students in foster care graduated on time in 2020, the lowest graduation rate of any student group and 36.6 percentage points lower than the rate for students not in foster care.
  • More than one in five New York City students in foster care repeats a grade, compared to only 6% of all DOE students.
  • The average student in foster care misses the equivalent of one-and-a-half months of school each year, and one out of every ten students in care has an attendance rate of less than 50%.
  • While 17% of all New York students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) because they have a disability and need special education services, over half of New York’s students in foster care have an IEP.

In March 2018, the City’s Interagency Foster Care Task Force, whose membership included the Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the DOE Chief Operating Officer, recommended that the DOE establish an infrastructure to focus on students in foster care, similar to its Office of Students in Temporary Housing. 

Three years later, the City has yet to act on this recommendation—and without staff in place, there is no one at the DOE consistently advocating for students in foster care, ensuring that the unique needs of students in care are considered when making policy decisions, or focusing on developing and implementing programs to assist students in foster care. At a time when the DOE is receiving an historic influx of federal and state funding, this report demonstrates the continued need for a DOE office for students in foster care and describes key responsibilities this office would carry out, including:

  • Providing a point of contact for schools, families, and child welfare professionals with questions about students in foster care.
  • Training and supporting schools on the needs and rights of students in foster care and their families.
  • Supporting parental involvement in education while their children are in foster care.
  • Tracking and improving educational outcomes, opportunities, and programming for students in foster care.
  • Developing and implementing policies related to students in foster care.

“School has the potential to be a great source of stability to students in foster care, at a time in their lives when so much is unfamiliar and uncertain,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “With the right support in place, school can be a safe haven for students experiencing the traumatizing separation from home and family. It’s critical that the DOE pay greater attention to this group of students, to equip schools with the knowledge and resources they need to serve students in foster care and their families effectively.”

"Students in foster care are among the most vulnerable of New York City students,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “They face tremendous challenges, ranging from trauma to frequent school changes, which can negatively impact their learning.  The creation of a dedicated office for children in foster care within the DOE can provide these students with essential services, and help ensure that their local schools have the training and resources that they need to meet these students' needs so they can be successful."

“As a former public school educator, I have witnessed first-hand the gap in knowledge among school staff about the overall needs of children in foster care,” said Dr. Brenda Triplett, Educational Director for Child Welfare and Family Services, Children’s Aid. “The pandemic has complicated the legal and logistical requirements to provide services for these youth and their families, in effect deepening longstanding inequities. Having a DOE office dedicated to understanding the needs of youth in care and mitigating the challenges they face is critical to their futures.”

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

04.15.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to new State guidance strongly encouraging school districts to provide over-age high school students the opportunity to return to school next year to finish meeting requirements for a high school diploma, diploma endorsement or exit credential: 

Advocates for Children commends the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for urging school districts to allow 21-year-old students to return for the 2021-22 school year to finish high school. This year has been incredibly difficult for students and families. The guidance released this week is an important step towards ensuring that no student loses the chance to graduate or to prepare for post-secondary opportunities because of COVID-19. 

We strongly urge the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and districts across New York State to act quickly to follow NYSED’s recommendation, get the word out to students and their families, and provide all students who are on the verge of aging out without a diploma the chance to finish their education and prepare for life after high school.  

Last year, NYSED issued similar guidance for students who turned 21 during the 2019-20 school year.  However, citing funding shortages, many districts denied students the option of returning to school this year. While New York City allowed most 21-year-old students to return to school for the 2020-21 school year, the City left out some of the students with the most intensive needs by not funding the continued enrollment of students with significant disabilities placed by the DOE at state-approved non-public schools. In light of both unprecedented school interruptions due to the pandemic and massive increases in State and Federal funding for education approved recently, all districts should extend school eligibility to all over-age students who need it.

View the press release [PDF]

first page of policy brief04.14.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief highlighting disparities in school attendance during the pandemic and calling on the City to invest in an ambitious Education Recovery Plan that ensures all students can receive the academic and social-emotional support they need as they return to school.

As required by Local Law 10 of 2021, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) recently posted disaggregated attendance data for the month of January, marking the first time this school year that such data has been publicly available. The new brief summarizes key takeaways from the data, which provide a snapshot of student engagement during remote and blended learning and make clear that COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on marginalized student populations. While absenteeism has risen across the board this year, attendance rates are strikingly low among students living in homeless shelters, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities, particularly at the high school level. In January 2021:

  • Students living in shelter had by far the lowest attendance rate of any student group: 75.7%, 14.1 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently-housed peers. Ninth, tenth, and twelfth graders in shelter had attendance rates of just 64-67%, meaning they missed around one out of every three school days. 
  • ELLs and students with disabilities in grade 10, along with ELL twelfth graders—roughly 30,000 students in all—missed approximately one out of every four school days.
  • The attendance rate for ELL tenth graders was 10.1 percentage points lower than the 2018-19 attendance rate for ELLs in tenth grade, a notably larger decline than for non-ELLs; students with disabilities also saw larger drops in attendance, relative to the 2018-19 school year, than their peers without disabilities.

“The latest attendance data should spur City Hall and the DOE to action,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “Tens of thousands of students are still struggling to access an education because of the pandemic or are at risk of disconnecting from school entirely. With the DOE poised to get billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funding, now is the time to put forward a comprehensive plan for an equitable recovery.”

AFC is recommending that the City’s plan for using its $7 billion in federal education COVID-19 funding include:

  • Investing in a corps of professionals, including bilingual staff and shelter-based staff, to focus on academic support, social-emotional support, and outreach to students and families. 
  • Engaging in intentional, proactive planning and outreach to ensure that the new Summer Rising program benefits all students—including students with disabilities, ELLs, and students experiencing homelessness—and provides the specialized supports these populations need.
  • Providing targeted academic and mental health supports; for example, one-on-one or small group tutoring, evidence-based literacy curricula, and staff such as social workers and behavior specialists who can provide direct services to students.
  • Investing in intensive, targeted outreach to re-engage students and families who are currently disconnected from school.
  • Providing make-up services and specialized support for students with disabilities and ELLs who did not receive their legally mandated instruction during the pandemic. 
  • Allowing 21-year-old students who would otherwise age out of school this year to attend Summer Rising and return to school next year so they can finish their diploma requirements or meet transition goals, particularly given the particularly low attendance rates for high school students. Just yesterday, the New York State Education Department issued a memo strongly encouraging districts to allow students aging out of school to attend summer school and, if needed, return to school for the 2021-2022 school year.


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

04.13.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the City’s announcement of summer programming for 2021:

We are pleased that the City is moving forward with an expanded version of summer school that will integrate academic and social-emotional support and be open to students across all grade levels. 

It will be important for the DOE to engage in intensive outreach to reengage students and families who have been disconnected from school, and the City must also take intentional steps to make registration as simple as possible and ensure that all students, including those who have disabilities, are learning English as a new language, or are experiencing homelessness, have the support they need to participate. 

As the DOE irons out plans for the summer, there are many questions that remain to be answered if Summer Rising is to be truly accessible and beneficial for all students. As just a few examples, we need to hear more about:

  • The City’s plans for providing specialized supports for students with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs), many of whom have gone without their legally mandated instruction during the pandemic. 
  • What targeted academic supports will be available. Beyond traditional enrichment, students should have the opportunity to receive one-on-one or small group instruction and intervention, particularly in the area of literacy. Last summer, the DOE began matching small groups of students struggling with reading with educators already trained in delivering evidence-based interventions; we urge the City to continue and expand upon this initiative as part of Summer Rising.
  • Whether there will be any guidelines in place to ensure accessibility and effectiveness in the high school program, which seems to be left entirely to the discretion of individual schools.
  • The availability of programming to students who are 21 or older and would normally age out of school in June, but need more time to earn a diploma or receive transition services in light of the pandemic.
  • The City’s plans for providing bus service or other door-to-door transportation for all students who need it in order to participate.
  • The City’s plans for how to provide instruction in trauma-informed settings and offer behavioral and mental health supports and services. 
  • The City’s plans for providing support to students whose families continue to opt for remote learning over the summer.
  • The City’s plans to make summer programming available to students in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Our full recommendations for COVID-19 education recovery can be found online. Following a year of unprecedented educational disruption, we look forward to working with the DOE to make summer programming as beneficial as possible for the students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

View the press release as a PDF

04.12.2021 | Today, more than 100 organizations sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio making the point that 3-K and Pre-K will never be “for all” until the City addresses the continuing shortage of seats in preschool special education classes—a shortage that has left young children with disabilities who have a legal right to such a class sitting at home or in settings that cannot provide the support they need. 

While the Mayor recently announced plans to expand 3-K to every school district this September, the City is falling far short of providing preschool special education classes to all children who require these smaller classes with trained special education teachers.  Prior to the pandemic, the City was projecting a shortage of 1,000-2,000 preschool special class seats, with a disproportionate need in the Bronx.  While COVID-19 has led to a temporary decline in preschool special education referrals this year, the City still has a current shortfall of hundreds of seats in the classes that serve preschoolers with the most significant needs.  And the demand for preschool special education classes will likely only increase in the coming months, as children with disabilities who missed out on months of services during the pandemic are identified as needing more intensive intervention.

“While the Mayor has announced an expansion of 3-K, my child has been waiting for three months for a seat in his legally required preschool special education class,” said Dilia Tejeda, the parent of three-year-old Devyn.  “I know how important it is for my child, who is on the autism spectrum, to get help now, and do not understand why the Mayor would announce a 3-K expansion without also addressing the shortage of seats for children with disabilities.  Why is my child not a priority?” 

Contributing to the shortage has been the closure of preschool special education programs run by community-based organizations (CBOs).  Instead of assisting CBOs, the City recently made the problem worse by excluding preschool special education teachers from an agreement to raise the starting salaries of 3-K and Pre-K teachers at CBOs to that of public school teachers, leading teachers of preschool special education classes to pursue higher-paid teaching jobs elsewhere.

With the City poised to receive a historic increase in education funding, including $6.9 billion from the federal government, the groups are calling on the Mayor to ensure a preschool special education class seat for every child who requires one and to extend supports offered to 3-K and Pre-K programs, including salary parity for teachers, to preschool special education programs run by community-based organizations.

Last week, the New York City Council recommended that the City invest $85 million in this year’s budget to address the shortage of preschool special education classes and provide salary parity to preschool special education class teachers.

“We are tired of waiting for the City to address the needs of preschoolers with disabilities while the Mayor announces expansion after expansion of other programs,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “A dark cloud will hang over the Mayor’s legacy on early childhood education unless he ensures there are seats for all children, including those with the most significant disabilities.”

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