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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

09.16.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York joins 30 organizations in calling on Mayor de Blasio to address the urgent educational needs of students who are homeless as the school year begins.  We are urging the City to develop a coordinated interagency plan and designate a point person to work across agencies to ensure that every student who is homeless can participate in learning this year.

The urgent unresolved issues that the City must address include the following concerns:

Although the City is expecting students to learn remotely from two to five days per week, there are city shelters where no children have access to online learning due to lack of connectivity and other shelters where connectivity is limited.  While we appreciate that the City prioritized distributing iPads with free cellular data to students living in shelters, the iPads do not work in some shelters because they do not have adequate cellular reception or WiFi.

Under city policy, students under 18 cannot remain in shelter units without a parent, but there is no child care plan for days of remote learning when parents need to work.  While we are pleased that Learning Bridges will give priority to students who are homeless, among other groups of students, we understand the programs will have very limited capacity and that seats are open only to students through 8th grade.

Many families in shelter have not yet received information about bus service despite the legal obligation to provide transportation to students who are homeless.

Although the City oversees the shelters where thousands of students live, the City has done little work to address the barriers that students and families who are homeless faced in accessing remote learning in the spring, and shelter providers have not received the resources or information needed to effectively support students in accessing education.

We are confident these issues are solvable if only the City would task someone with working across agencies to tackle them. Over the past six years, this Administration has brought increased attention and resources to improving the education of students who are homeless. At a time when students who are homeless have already experienced significant learning loss and trauma, please do not leave these students behind. 

Read the letter [PDF]

09.01.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement delaying the first day of school: 

With so many unanswered questions about the reopening of school buildings, the City needs to use this additional time to develop robust plans for supporting students in the year ahead, particularly the students with the greatest needs. Remote learning was disastrous for many students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and students experiencing homelessness this past spring; given that all students will continue to learn remotely at least some of the time for the foreseeable future, the DOE must develop and implement strategies to improve online instruction. Also, the transition to a hybrid model poses a slew of new challenges that have yet to be addressed. For example:

  • Approximately 50,000 students with disabilities, along with students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care, have a legal right to transportation, but the City has still not finalized any bus contracts. Families of these students need to know how their children will get to school, and many cannot front the cost of transportation or send their children alone on the subway if busing is not in place by the first day of class.
  • The City must ensure all students have the technology they need; distributing iPads is just the first step. Some family shelters, for example, have no WiFi and limited-to-nonexistent cellular reception, making it difficult for students in shelter to actually use those iPads to participate in remote learning.
  • The City must improve communication with families and ensure parents receive information in a language they can understand. When schools closed in March, many immigrant families and others were left in the dark. Parents cannot be expected to supervise and support their children’s remote instruction unless they have two-way communication with their schools.
  • Ensuring all students receive the support they need to learn under a blended model must be a top priority. It remains unclear how schools will staff integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes, schedule related service sessions, and otherwise ensure all students with disabilities receive their mandated special education instruction and services when they are only in the building 1-3 days per week. Similarly, the DOE has not put forward a meaningful plan for supporting English Language Learners, many of whom struggle to make progress in the absence of in-person supports, or a plan for connecting students with mental health services.


Read the statement
[PDF]

Special Education Recommendations cover image

08.18.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York released a set of essential recommendations for New York City’s school reopening plan, urging the Department of Education (DOE) to ensure that students with disabilities have the support they need when schools reopen, whether they are learning in a school building or remotely. 

The closure of school buildings last spring was especially difficult for New York City’s students with disabilities, who depend on schools for a range of specialized services and therapies—some of which can be quite challenging, if not impossible, to deliver remotely—in addition to academic instruction. Without consistent services and a structured school day, many fell behind their peers or lost skills that they had previously mastered. As the DOE prepares for the 2020-21 school year, it is critical that it address the barriers that prevented many students with disabilities from accessing remote learning last semester and put forward a plan for helping those who have fallen behind get caught up. 

The recommendations include urging the City to:

  • Offer full-time in-person instruction to all students in special education classes whose families want that option. By their very nature, these classes are already small in size and serve students with significant needs who may have particular difficulty engaging in remote learning.
  • Improve remote instruction and service delivery, including deploying educators already trained in evidence-based literacy instruction to provide small-group support to struggling readers on days they are learning remotely. The fact that students are no longer limited by the four walls of the school building offers a unique opportunity to match staff already trained in delivering evidence-based reading interventions with students who need extra help, regardless of where they happen to attend school.
  • Hold meetings with parents to develop an individualized plan for each student with a disability prior to the start of the school year. For students receiving in-person instruction part-time, schools should collaborate with families in their home language to determine what instruction and services should be provided during the student’s days in school, and what should be offered on the days they are learning remotely, in order to maximize use of their limited in-person time. These plans should also address the support parents need in order to help their child with remote learning. 
  • Provide robust behavioral and mental health supports to all students who need them, including those who have experienced COVID-related trauma or who need help readjusting to the school environment after months at home, refrain from police interventions, and limit exclusionary discipline.
  • Ensure all health and safety protocols take into account the unique needs of students with disabilities and provide supports and accommodations to those who have difficulty complying with new requirements, such as those around mask-wearing and social distancing. In addition, as schools look to repurpose every available space, they must be mindful of the needs of students and educators with physical disabilities, given that the majority of City school buildings are not fully accessible.
  • Provide compensatory services to make up for the instruction and services students missed while school buildings were closed.
  • Ensure the City’s new “Learning Bridges” child care programs provide support for students with disabilities and expand eligibility to include high school students with disabilities, some of whom are unable to stay alone while their parents work and require adult assistance in order to participate in remote learning.

“The pandemic created huge challenges for special education that require the City schools to respond with creative thinking, flexibility, and a commitment to collaborating with families to a greater extent than ever before,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC. “We all need to do everything we can to make sure this pandemic does not leave students with disabilities even further behind.”

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

07.08.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza’s announcement of plans for reopening school buildings in September: 

Bringing 1.1 million children and more than 70,000 teachers safely back into the classroom in the midst of a pandemic is an enormously challenging task, but the plans Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza announced this morning lack the level of innovative thinking and cross-sector coordination that this moment requires. The split-schedule models presented today will worsen existing inequities, and they are just plain unworkable for many low-income families who cannot continue to stay home to watch and educate their children. For example:

  • This spring, many students—including students who have disabilities, are learning English as a new language, or are living in homeless shelters—struggled to participate meaningfully in remote learning and have fallen behind. Instead of receiving priority for in-person instruction this fall, however, most of these students will continue on remote instruction for two to four days each week.

  • The number of days of in-person instruction any individual student receives will depend on the school they happen to attend, which means that a child who has the disadvantage of attending an over-crowded school will receive less in-person instruction than a child who does not.  

  • Working families who have multiple children attending different schools—or maybe even different grades at the same school—will be forced into an impossible juggling act trying to manage multiple different part-time schedules in which different children attend school on different days, depending on the week. Schooling is inextricably intertwined with child care, and the two systems must be looked at together—not in isolation or as an afterthought. 

We know the City is facing unprecedented challenges, but for that very reason, our leaders need to break down siloes between agencies, departments, and schools and achieve a new level of collaboration with parents, businesses, and community partners so that students can receive the academic and social-emotional support they need to get back on track and parents can return to work.

Read the statement [PDF]

06.24.2020 | 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 graduation requirements and to prepare for their transition out of high school:

We thank the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for strongly encouraging school districts to allow 21-year-old students to return for the 2020-21 school year to finish meeting graduation requirements and to receive the transition supports they need to move on to post-secondary opportunities. The guidance is an important first step towards ensuring that COVID-19 does not cause any student to lose their chance to earn a high school diploma or miss out on the support they need to transition out of high school.

We strongly urge the New York City Department of Education and districts across New York State to follow NYSED’s recommendation and provide all young people aging out without a diploma the opportunity to complete their education and prepare for life after high school. Districts should reach out to 21-year-old students and their families right away to let them know they can return. We agree with NYSED that “it would be a cruel injustice to pull the rug out from under these young adults who have worked so hard for so long,” and with the school year quickly coming to an end, this small group of students must know they will not be left behind.

Read the statement [PDF]

06.18.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to recent statements by City Council Members and the President of the Teamsters Union Local 237 about removing police from schools:

We support City Council Members’ call to move responsibility for school safety to the DOE and urge the City to remove all NYPD officers from schools, shifting funding to education and social services that will support a new vision of safety in schools. We must ensure all students – especially Black students, who are disproportionately harmed – are truly safe and supported in school.

Before schools closed due to the pandemic, the NYPD – instead of clinically trained mental health professionals – had already intervened in more than 2,250 incidents involving students in emotional crisis, and even handcuffed some of these students. Black students were most disproportionately harmed; 58% of the students handcuffed were Black, even though Black students are only 25% of the total NYC public school population.

When students return to classrooms, they will need to have schools where they face social workers and therapists instead of police, where they receive mental health supports and services instead of handcuffs, and where they are welcomed to a restorative, trauma-informed setting instead of greeted by metal detectors.

Read the statement [PDF]

Extended Eligibility Policy Brief thumbnail06.15.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief calling on the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to ensure that students aging out of school this month can return to high school next year so they do not lose their chance to earn a diploma. With the school year ending in just two weeks, NYSED must take action immediately to ensure that 21-year-old students who have struggled to access remote learning do not have their lives thrown entirely off course by the pandemic.

Students in New York State have the right to continue working towards a high school diploma until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. While more than 95% of students who graduate do so in four years, a small subset of students need five, six, or even seven years to complete the requirements for a diploma. Students who need more time to graduate are disproportionately students of color. In fact, Black students who graduate high school in New York State are seven times as likely as White students to need six years to do so, and Latinx graduates are 7.3 times as likely as their White peers to finish in their sixth year of high school.

Using data obtained from NYSED pursuant to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, the policy brief shows that there are approximately 3,700 students in New York State who will age out of school this year. Many of these students will graduate later this month, but those who have been unable to complete their coursework—a number estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,500 students statewide—will lose their chance to earn a diploma. Some of these students did not have access to needed technology for remote learning; others had to care for younger siblings or work to support their families when their parents abruptly lost their jobs.

The students aging out in June 2020 are disproportionately students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners:

  • Approximately three-quarters (74%) of students aging out are Black or Latinx, though Black and Latinx students comprise less than 45% of the total high school population in New York State;
  • Almost half (47%) of all students aging out have disabilities; and
  • One in three students aging out is learning English as a new language. 


“The young people aging out of school in two weeks are the same student populations who have been hardest hit by the pandemic itself and by the challenges of online learning,” said Ashley Grant, a Supervising Staff Attorney at Advocates for Children of New York and Coordinator of the statewide Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma. “COVID has already devastated Black and Latinx communities. It shouldn’t take away students’ chance to earn a high school diploma too.”

The brief calls on the New York State Education Department to issue guidance directing districts to allow all students aging out of school without a diploma to return to high school next year—a recommendation echoed by more than 100 organizations in a recent letter. Unless the State takes action, these young adults will be forced to leave school and enter a labor market in which nearly one in five Americans without a high school degree is unemployed.

“Students who need a sixth or seventh year to graduate have struggled in the past, overcome obstacles, and want to finish high school because they know how important a diploma is for their future,” said Deanna Wallace, who graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn at age 19 and now mentors middle and high schoolers who are over-age for their grade level. “After all their years of hard work, the State has two weeks to act to keep their dream alive.” 

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

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