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Press Releases

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]

03.24.2021 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following response to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that New York City plans to use federal COVID-19 education relief funding to expand 3-K citywide: 

While AFC has strongly supported this Administration’s commitment to expanding access to early childhood education, 3-K and Pre-K will not be universal until the City addresses the continuing shortage of seats in preschool special education classes—a shortage that has left young children with disabilities sitting at home or in settings that cannot provide the support they need, in violation of their legal rights. 

Data released by the Department of Education (DOE) just last week confirmed what we have been seeing on the ground for months: even this spring—in a year when the pandemic has led to a steep decline in preschool special education enrollment—the City has a shortfall of hundreds of seats in 6- and 8-student classes, which serve preschoolers with the most significant needs. We have heard from families desperate for help because their children with autism or other complex disabilities were going without appropriate services because there were no available seats in the type of class they needed. Yet, the Mayor’s announcement today will do nothing to help these children.

“3-K and Pre-K will never be ‘for all’ while preschoolers with disabilities are sitting at home without the classes they need,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “Announcing a major expansion of 3-K with no plan to provide legally required classes to preschoolers with disabilities is a slap in the face to parents whose children need additional help—and is a violation of children’s civil rights.”

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. Prior to the pandemic, the City had projected a shortage of 1,000-2,000 preschool special class seats with a disproportionate need in the Bronx.

“Failing to provide a preschool special education class seat for every child who needs one is shortsighted and discriminatory, in addition to illegal,” said Kim Sweet. “A child’s early years provide the greatest opportunity for intervention. We urge the City to address the shortage of special class seats and ensure that the Mayor’s legacy includes a seat for every preschooler in New York City, including those with disabilities.”

View news release as a PDF


first page of sign-on letter03.09.2021 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over 150 parents, educators, and other individuals from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department (NYSED), urging them to give students aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2021-22 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

New Yorkers have the right to attend school to work toward a high school diploma until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Although most students who graduate do so in four years, a small subset of young people — disproportionately students of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities — need five, six, or even seven years to finish high school. Each year, roughly 2,000-3,000 students across New York State graduate after their sixth year of high school.

Given the massive educational disruptions caused by COVID-19, NYSED and the Board of Regents issued guidance last June strongly encouraging schools to allow 21-year-olds who would otherwise be aging out of school in 2020 to return for the summer and, if necessary, attend high school this year to complete their education. As the pandemic continues, it is critical that the State immediately extend this guidance so that students who turn 21 during this school year can return for the 2021-22 school year to complete coursework or meet special education transition goals.

One young person who benefited from the extra time in school this year is Kenny Abraham, a 21-year-old who graduated in January 2021.  Kenny, an English Language Learner from Haiti, worked multiple jobs throughout high school to help support his mother and two younger siblings, which made it difficult to keep up with his education.  Kenny had fallen further behind due to the stress of the pandemic — at one point working three jobs to help his family. He would have aged out of school without a diploma in June 2020, but the State’s policy allowed him to reenroll and finish his diploma requirements at the Downtown Brooklyn Young Adult Borough Center (YABC).

“When the pandemic started, I was about to turn 21, so I thought my chance for a high school diploma was over,” Kenny Abraham said.  “When I found out I was allowed to stay in high school, I was so excited that I could finish with help from teachers and school staff who knew me. Other students deserve to get the same chance I did.”

The letter also urges NYSED to, once again, extend eligibility to students with disabilities who need more time to work toward their postsecondary transition goals. Shari DiStefano’s daughter Brianna turned 21 in December and will age out of her District 75 high school program in June. Before the pandemic, Brianna was preparing for life after high school by working in the school store, participating in a cooking program, and learning to use a calculator and cash register.  When her school went remote in March 2020, Brianna, who has autism, could no longer participate in these programs.

“Schools are doing their best. But without in-person, hands-on supports, I’ve watched Brianna’s skills regress significantly,” said Ms. DiStefano. “Students like Brianna have already missed out on a critical year of transition supports that simply cannot be provided remotely. We’re just asking for her to have the opportunity to make up those experiences so she can be ready for life after high school.”

“With so many students falling behind this year, the State should extend the age students can stay in school and give young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, Director of the Postsecondary Readiness Project at Advocates for Children of New York and Coordinator of the statewide Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma.

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