K-12 students face many challenges in New York

Council Member Rita Joseph visits the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology.
Photo by John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

Parents and community members have expressed their concern over the difficulties faced by students with special needs and those who are learning English as a second language.

These were among some of the issues raised during a community conversation on the state of K-12 education organized by the East Flatbush Community Development Corporation, in collaboration with Elite Learners, Inc. and M & M Angels on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

During this discussion, several other concerns were raised having to do with some of the challenges that parents, students, caregivers and teachers are currently experiencing. New York City Council Member Rita Joseph, who represents the 40th Council District, and is also chair of the Education Committee attended the meeting along with 40 community school board members.

The conversation focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the withdrawal of many students from public schools, and the communication between caregivers and schools.  In addition, the pandemic highlighted the experiences of students who live in alternative housing and have to deal with food insecurity and not having access to the internet.

In addition, many students did not attend the newly arrived English as a New Language (ENL) class due to not understanding how to enroll in their online courses. In addition to not having no one at home that could support them with instruction because they also could not speak English. These parents experienced so much anxiety around not being capable enough to assist their special needs children. This contributed to many families having educational neglect cases coming at them. That further perpetuates the mental health crisis among students and parents.

Council Member Rita Joseph cited a study that stated that “40% of all students lost a loved one, during the pandemic, and noted that many of them were not able to grieve properly due to the chaos and the uncertainty. This distress displays itself through some of the behavioral challenges that teachers may be experiencing with their students now.

Council Member Rita Joseph greets students in her district on the first day of school.
Council Member Rita Joseph greets students in her district on the first day of school. Photo by John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit 

During the meeting, one parent expressed her dissatisfaction with the Department of Education’s lack of preparation to serve students with IEPs, so she withdrew her child and began homeschooling. Additionally, many parents are enrolling their children in charter schools and relocating out of New York City. Several parents stated that they are not happy with the middle school and high school algorithms, which have been placing students at schools not requested by them.

“One of the most heartbreaking things for both students and parents is not being informed by the school about their children’s progress toward graduation. I was devastated when I heard that my daughter would not be able to graduate on time with her classmates. She missed school due to asthma. She had doctor’s documentation, and yet was still unable to graduate. As a result, her mental health has suffered,” stated a parent.

In response to the myriad of issues that children and families face, one of the first things Council Member Joseph did upon becoming a council member was to create an office that will support young people in foster care. Joseph has also advocated for more additional social workers and counselors for not just students, but their families as well. She has advocated for related services including occupational and physical therapy, speech pathologists, and the reduction of classroom size. In addition, Joseph has held hearings on school food, school transportation, and school admissions and since the meeting has held a hearing on the preliminary budget.

She has advocated for money for shelter-based coordinators and in addition, voted on several solutions such as increasing SYEP slots to 100,000 and increasing slots in the Learn, Earn and Grow program from 2100 to 4400.

“Much work has been done to address some of the challenges in the NYC School system and more work needs to be done if the DOE wants to retain its current enrollment numbers. This could include creating a virtual district and addressing the technology divide; providing more related services such as OT, PT, and speech pathology; meeting the needs of ENL students and reduce the number of educational neglect cases being brought against families; addressing students’ mental state and and fix the middle school and high school algorithms for school selection,” stated Council Member Joseph.

She also mentioned bringing back and/or shoring up resources for Parent University, which created a centralized place for parents to access pertinent information to their child’s education.

For more information about the East Flatbush Community Development Corporation, please visit us at www.eastflatbushcdc.org

Useful links:

Loss of caregivers during COVID


Overall impact of COVID on childrren


Education Hearings 2023


Education Hearings 2022