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Cheick’s Story

Cheick, an immigrant student from Mali, was told—illegally—that he had to leave high school and transfer to a high school equivalency program.

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Press Releases

05.19.2020 | In response to a complaint filed by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) have entered into a voluntary resolution agreement to ensure the provision and monitoring of translation and interpretation services to parents of New York City students with disabilities whose home language is not English. The agreement, signed in December 2019, came seven years after AFC and NYLPI filed the initial complaint with OCR concerning NYC DOE’s inadequate services.

The resolution agreement confirms the rights of Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents, under local, state and federal civil rights laws, to translation and interpretation services related to the special education services their children receive. In addition to acknowledging that LEP parents have a right to receive translations of special education documents – such as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Section 504 Plans and NYC DOE-funded evaluations – the resolution agreement is significant because it also states that the NYC DOE is responsible for informing families of their right to request these services, tracking translation and interpretation requests, and creating a centralized system for providing translated documents to families in all school districts in New York City. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for a centralized, effective system for providing and tracking translation and interpretation to parents of students with disabilities in the New York City public schools. Seven weeks after the closing of schools, there are LEP families and parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) who are still struggling to connect their children to remote learning and to special education services. Many of these families are not able to communicate with their schools unless the NYC DOE provides interpreters and translated materials. 

In response to AFC and NYPLI’s complaint, NYC DOE launched a pilot in 2018 for the centralized translation of IEPs, upon request by parents, in three of the City’s school districts. The resolution agreement states that this IEP translation pilot will inform the creation of a centralized system for all special education document translations. The IEP translation pilot remains in effect in Districts 9 and 24 and in special education District 75. 

“The agreement is not as strong as we had hoped, but it starts to move the school system in the right direction,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, Director of AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project. “It’s important for parents to know that they currently have a right to translations of special education documents, and they can make the request through their children’s individual schools. In light of the COVID-19 school closures and the active role parents are playing in their children’s remote education, it is more important than ever for parents to understand their children’s IEPs and special education needs.”

"We are grateful that after years of neglect, the NYC DOE has finally committed to providing parents who are Limited English Proficient with access to the document translation and meeting interpretation necessary to meaningfully participate in their children's education,” said Ruth Lowenkron, Director of the Disability Justice Program at NYLPI. “We will vigilantly monitor the agreement to ensure that the NYC DOE honors its commitment, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The full voluntary resolution agreement is available here.

View the press release [PDF]
View translated press release as a PDF: Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish

Sixth Year Grads05.11.2020 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over five dozen parents and educators from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department, urging them to give students who are aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2020-21 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

While more than 95% of students who graduate high school in New York State do so in four years, a small subset of students needs five or six years to complete the requirements for a diploma. Last summer, approximately 2,700 students statewide—more than three-quarters of whom were Black or Latinx—graduated in their sixth year of high school. 

New York students who have not yet earned their diploma have the right to stay in school until the end of the school year in which they turn 21, and those who need this extra time to graduate have often overcome remarkable odds; they may be recently arrived immigrant youth who were learning English in addition to completing graduation requirements, students who dropped out for several years to work and help support their families, or students who spent time in foster care and changed schools frequently. The pandemic has now thrown their hard work into jeopardy. 

Many students across the State—through no fault of their own—have been unable to engage in remote learning and will not earn course credit this term. For overage 12th graders, the consequences will be dire: without an opportunity to finish their coursework when schools reopen, they will simply age out without a diploma, making it much more difficult for them to access post-secondary opportunities and jobs especially at a time of surging unemployment rates.

“Prior to this pandemic, our students were already facing obstacles - financial, health, caretaking - yet they still strive to earn their high school diploma. Now those challenges are magnified. We need to be flexible, to support these students to achieve their goals,” said Rachel Forsyth, who manages school programs focused on serving older students for Good Shepherd Services.

Michael Rothman, Executive Director of Eskolta School Research and Design, a nonprofit that partners with New York City Department of Education programs serving overage and under-credited students, said, “The pandemic has put into stark contrast the opportunities that some students have and others do not in our education system. Students who are overage in high school are disproportionately Black, Brown, and low-income and are more likely to be losing jobs, losing loved ones, and losing learning amidst the pandemic. To tell these students that they will not graduate because they hit the age limit in the midst of this difficult this time would only add to this inequity. This is one loss the State can do something about.” 

The groups are calling on the State to allow high school students to complete work from this school year at least until the end of summer 2021 and to allow students who are aging out of school in June 2020 to return for another year. 

“In light of the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, the State needs to extend the age of eligibility and ensure schools have sufficient resources to give this relatively small but exceptional group of young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, a Supervising Attorney 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]
View the data on last year’s sixth-year graduates [PDF]

04.28.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Department of Education (DOE)’s announced grading policy for the 2019-20 school year: 

While there is no perfect way to document the academic performance of students living in the epicenter of a pandemic, the grading policy announced today is disappointing in its failure to rethink our usual way of doing things in light of the unprecedented long-term closure of City schools. We are deeply concerned about the impact this policy will have on students who—through no fault of their own—have been unable to engage in remote learning. Thousands of students have had to wait weeks to receive a remote learning device from the DOE; they should not be punished for falling behind simply because their family cannot afford a computer, high-speed internet access, or the other resources necessary to rapidly transition to online schooling. 

The students whose academic records will reflect that they “need improvement” and who will be unable to earn course credit this semester will be those who are already marginalized and whose families are already being hit hardest by COVID-19: students whose parents are not proficient in the English language or who have low digital literacy; students who are living in homeless shelters or overcrowded apartments and lack a quiet spot to study; students whose days are now spent caring for younger siblings or ill family members; and students who are not receiving the same special education supports and services they typically receive at school.

The DOE must develop an intensive support structure and a long-term plan to ensure that all students who are struggling with remote learning can catch up. Receipt of such supports must recognize the uniquely challenging circumstances facing so many of our students and must not rely on remote learning over the summer when many students have fallen behind precisely because they are struggling to access remote instruction in the first place. The DOE must allow high school students to complete work from this school year at least until the end of the 2020-21 school year and must also allow students who are aging out of school this year to return for another year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma. 

We stand ready to work with the DOE and City Hall to ensure that students and families receive the support they need during this difficult time and that the response to the pandemic does not further magnify existing disparities

View the statement as a PDF

04.16.2020 | 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 2021 Executive Budget:

Even in our darkest days, we have to continue to invest in the future, and our schools are our best hope. That is absolutely key to full recovery. 

In the year ahead, New York City students will need additional academic and social-emotional support to make up for the months of instructional time that have been lost to the pandemic and address the impact of isolation, fear, and loss. The budget cuts announced today would only worsen existing inequities and compound the immense challenges our schools and students are currently facing. 

We need our federal, state, and city elected officials to work together to ensure our schools have the resources they need so that the current crisis does not have lifelong consequences for a generation of children. 

View the press release [PDF]

04.07.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the cancellation of the June Regents exams and the release of guidance from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) modifying graduation requirements for impacted students: 

AFC commends Chancellor Rosa, the Board of Regents, and the State Education Department for their decision to exempt students who were scheduled to take Regents exams this June from having to pass those assessments as a condition of high school graduation. This decision is good news for the thousands of students across New York State who are currently navigating unprecedented disruptions to their education. The guidance released today, which allows students in certain situations to demonstrate their readiness to graduate through passing course grades, ensures that students who are on track to earn a diploma will not be penalized for circumstances well beyond their control. Because many students are still struggling to access remote learning, it will be critical—especially once the current crisis has passed—that schools have the resources to provide young people with the additional academic and other support they will need to leave high school prepared for college and careers.

View the press release as a PDF

first page of report

01.30.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new report, Waiting for a Seat: The Shortage of Preschool Special Education Class Seats in New York City, showing a projected shortfall of between 1,028 and 1,932 preschool special education class seats for three- and four-year-old children with disabilities in New York City this spring.  This number does not include the projected need for hundreds of additional bilingual preschool special education class seats, which are calculated separately.

While many preschoolers with disabilities receive services in general education pre-K classes, children with more significant needs have a legal right to a seat in a preschool special education class with a certified special education teacher and a smaller student-to-staff ratio.  However, after years of under-investment by the State in preschool special education programs, New York is falling far short of providing all children with the classes they need.  In fact, 22 of the City’s 32 school districts have a shortage of preschool special education classes for the spring.  The need is particularly acute in the Bronx, with a projected need of at least 450 and up to as many as 798 seats in monolingual English classes, as well as additional seats in bilingual Spanish classes.

“We have heard from parents desperate for their preschoolers to get the help they need to learn to talk and walk, but who have been sitting at home for months waiting for a seat in a class,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC.  “Unless government leaders take immediate action, hundreds of children with autism and other disabilities will miss out on their mandated services this spring in violation of their civil rights, and we will squander this opportunity to provide support at the point in a child’s development when it is likely to be most effective.”

Over the past two years, the DOE has opened more than 1,000 additional preschool special class seats in an effort to address the shortage.  However, community-based organizations (CBOs), which run the majority of preschool special education classes, are struggling to keep their doors open and run high-quality programs as a result of the insufficient payment rate set by the State.  In particular, the rate makes it difficult to recruit and retain certified teachers who could earn far higher salaries at public schools and other early childhood education programs.

Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the State did not provide any increase in reimbursement rates for preschool special classes for six years, keeping the rate stagnant with no cost of living adjustments.  Since that time, the State has approved only a two percent increase each year —far less than the rate increase recommended by the New York State Education Department, New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, advocates, and providers to address the shortage of programs and help ensure there is a seat for every child who needs one.  In recent years, more than 60 preschool special education programs have closed around the State—many of them citing inadequate rates.

The budget proposal released this month by Governor Cuomo does not include any initiatives to help address this crisis.

"By the time Aiden got a seat, the teachers and therapists had to do double the work just to get him back up to speed,” said Janira Batista, a parent whose child had to wait eight months for a seat in a preschool special education class.  “Now that Aiden has spent time in his class, he interacts more with other children, he follows directions better, and he speaks in full sentences.  But no child should have to wait so long to get the help they need.”

“Every day that young children with disabilities sit on a waitlist instead of in class is a missed opportunity to intervene and prepare them for kindergarten,” said Randi Levine, AFC’s Policy Director.  “Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have been leaders in expanding early childhood education, and they must extend this commitment to preschoolers with disabilities this year.”

The report recommends that the State and the City take the following steps:

  1. New York State must increase the payment rate for preschool special classes by ten percent this year to help provide programs with the resources they need to recruit and retain teachers and run high-quality programs.  A rate increase is necessary to make up for under-investment in prior years and to prevent more CBOs from closing their preschool special classes and encourage them to open new classes to meet the outstanding need.

  2. New York City must ensure there is a preschool special class seat available for every child who needs one by opening new DOE classes or facilitating the opening of new classes at CBOs.  While the State needs to increase the payment rate for these classes, the City still has a legal obligation to provide a preschool special class seat for every child who needs one.  As such, the City must take steps to support the CBOs that the DOE is relying upon to provide preschool special classes including by extending the recently announced salary raises for early childhood education teachers to preschool special class teachers at CBOs.


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

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

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

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

View the press release as a PDF

Early Inequities report cover12.05.2019 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York published a new report in partnership with Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) entitled Early Inequities: How Underfunding Early Intervention Leaves Low-Income Children of Color Behind [PDF], which shows that State disinvestment in New York’s Early Intervention program has caused major racial and socio-economic disparities in access to services.

The analysis is based on data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene obtained through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. The data track children’s progress through the Early Intervention program—from referral, to evaluation, to eligibility determination, to service receipt—disaggregated by race and neighborhood from 2016-2018. As this report demonstrates, the data show that children under the age of three with developmental delays or disabilities are less likely to receive critical services that could help them reach their full potential if they live in low-income neighborhoods of color.

In 2018, one out of every four children found eligible for Early Intervention services in New York State had to wait longer than the 30-day legal deadline for services, losing valuable opportunities to address developmental delays at a time when their brains are rapidly developing. Access to Early Intervention evaluations and services also varies widely across communities in New York City. In the Bronx, for instance, only 61% of children found eligible for services received them by the 30-day legal deadline—less than in any other borough. Overall, children in low-income communities of color are the least likely to receive the Early Intervention evaluations for which they are referred and the Early Intervention services for which they are found eligible. For example, the neighborhoods where children referred for Early Intervention evaluations due to concerns with their development were least likely to receive evaluations were Hunts Point-Mott Haven, Crotona-Tremont, Central Harlem-Morningside Heights, High Bridge-Morisania, and East Harlem.

The report makes a number of recommendations to New York City and New York State in order to increase access to Early Intervention services.

In order to increase children’s access to services, the report recommends that New York State should:

  1. Increase rates for Early Intervention evaluators, service providers and service coordinators by 10% to help address provider shortages.
  2. Fund a cost-study to assess and recommend changes to the methodology used to determine payment for evaluations, service provision, and service coordination.
  3. Adopt policies to ensure that commercial health insurance companies pay their fair share to help cover the cost of services.
  4. Conduct a statewide analysis of disparities in access to evaluations and services and develop a plan to address such disparities.

The report recommends that New York City should:

  1. Enact Intro. 1406-2019, requiring the city to issue annual public reports on the provision of evaluations and services so the public can hold the city and state accountable.
  2. Analyze the disparities and develop a plan to address them, including plans to recruit evaluators and providers for underserved neighborhoods, train service coordinators and providers in culturally responsive practices, and follow up with families whose children have not received evaluations or services.

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

11.04.2019 | On November 1, 2019, the City released 2018-2019 school year data showing that, since the 2013-2014 school year, suspensions are at an all-time low, having declined by 38.5%.  The City reported that major crime in schools declined by 31.9% during the same period.  The school discipline data, which the Department of Education is required to report pursuant to the Student Safety Act, show that since last year, suspensions declined by 10.5%, and the average length of suspensions declined citywide from 7.5 to 5.8 days.

However, even as the overall number of suspensions and the average length of suspensions has fallen, the longstanding, stark racial disparities in suspensions have proven remarkably persistent. Black students—who comprise around a quarter of the New York City public school population—received more than half (52%) of all superintendent’s suspensions in 2018-19, along with 42.1% of principal’s suspensions. In 2017-18, those numbers were 51.6% and 43.5%, respectively.

There are similarly dramatic trends for students with disabilities: while approximately 20% of New York City students receive special education services, 39.7% of all suspensions issued last year went to students with disabilities—an almost identical percentage as in the past two years (students with disabilities received 40.1% of suspensions in 2017-18 and 38.9% in 2016-17).

“We are pleased by the results of the NYC Department of Education’s hard work over the 2018-2019 school year to reduce both the number and length of suspensions,” said Kim Sweet, Advocates for Children’s Executive Director. “However, there remains enormous work to be done to address the disproportionate impact of punitive, exclusionary discipline on Black students and students with disabilities. These dramatic disparities are deeply concerning.” 

Results of the recent Center for Court Innovation report School Discipline, Safety, and Climate: A Comprehensive Study in New York City show that suspensions lead to poor academic and social outcomes, including failing a grade, arrests, and further suspensions in future school years. The study also indicates that Black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, and low-income students are more likely to be suspended than other students, taking into account past behavior and similar types of incidents. The study concludes that positive practices, especially restorative approaches, can lead to better student outcomes and a better school climate. 

This year, the Administration is expanding restorative practices to 300 middle and high schools and plans to expand citywide over the course of three years.

“Going forward, it is critical that the City build on these promising results by creating a solid infrastructure to institutionalize them and make the necessary additional investments in mental health services and supports, social workers, and restorative practices to further expand on them,” said Dawn Yuster, Director of Advocates for Children’s School Justice Project. “We are eager to dig in and do the work with the City and other stakeholders on the NYC School Safety Community Partnership Committee to develop a comprehensive plan to keep students in school learning — safe and supported using evidence-based approaches to improve academic outcomes and eliminate discipline disparities by race and disability.”

View the press release as  PDF

11.01.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the New York City Department of Education’s special education data report for the 2018-19 school year: 

New York City continues to fall short when it comes to educating its students with disabilities. While the percentage of City students fully receiving their recommended special education instruction continued to trend in the right direction in 2018-19, we are nevertheless dismayed that more than 15 percent of students with disabilities—a total 28,960 children, more than the total enrollment of the Yonkers public schools—still did not fully receive the instruction to which they are legally entitled.

Moreover, today’s report merely tells us how many students with disabilities were in the class setting recommended by their Individualized Education Program (IEP) as of the last day of school, and how many students received at least one session of a related service, such as counseling or speech therapy, before the year was over. At a time when only 16 percent of students with disabilities are proficient in reading, a student who was recommended for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) English Language Arts class in September but did not set foot in such a classroom until February would still count as “fully” served, as would a student who went nine months without mandated speech therapy but had a single session in June. In addition, based on current reporting requirements, these numbers are available only for the City as a whole. We are calling on the DOE to release district-level quarterly public reports so that parents and advocates can assess how well their local schools are serving students with disabilities throughout the year.

The modest decrease in the timeliness of evaluations in 2018-19 is a clear signal that the City must invest in additional school psychologists, as a delay in evaluating a student inevitably means a delay in providing appropriate services if that student is found eligible. For more than one in four students who were evaluated for special education for the first time last year, more than two months passed before an IEP meeting was held to determine what learning support should be put in place, in large part because current staff are burdened by unmanageable caseloads. Two months can feel like a lifetime to a child who is struggling in school, falling behind their peers, and rapidly losing confidence in their own abilities. The special education process can be a lengthy one, even when all timelines are followed; these additional delays in getting students the help they need are simply unacceptable.

Finally, today’s report illustrates the continuing need to improve special education data management. In February 2019, the DOE announced that it would be eliminating its Special Education Student Information System (SESIS), but the City has yet to provide any details as to how or when this phase-out will occur. We urge the DOE to release a public plan and timeline to ensure a smooth transition from SESIS to its replacement, including full access for parents to their children’s records. 

On the first day of school in September, Chancellor Carranza said, “As educators, it is our great responsibility to give each student the instruction and support they need to meet the high bar we’ve set.” We agree. As the DOE focuses on improving the day-to-day work of teaching and learning, it is essential that strengthening instruction for students with disabilities be central to that effort.

View press release as a PDF