The impact of COVID-19 is seen and felt every day by all of us. These are unprecedented times and we are all encountering situations we never could have imagined. The Long Island Advocacy Center is facing a significant loss of funding from Suffolk County. If this happens, the impact will be felt by not only our staff members in Suffolk County, but by our Nassau County staff, too. This will directly affect LIAC’s ability to provide our unique services, educational advocacy and legal representation, across every community on Long Island. We need your support, now, more than ever so we can continue to help you and your families.
To identify your local legislator in Suffolk County, and their contact information, please click the following link:
Suffolk County Legislators.
Although LIAC faces these immediate cuts in Suffolk County, the economy is so unstable due to the global pandemic, we need to act proactively and prepare for similar funding cuts in Nassau County, too. To identify your local legislator in Nassau County, and their contact information, please click the following link:
Nassau County Legislators.
If you would like to make a donation to the Long Island Advocacy Center to help support the work we do, every dollar counts, no donation is too small.
LIAC has written letters to every legislator in Suffolk County to demonstrate what we do and the impact our services have; not only on the students and families with whom we work, but also on our local communities and Long Island as our shared community.
If you are curious about some of the funding and program cuts LIAC faces, and the impact it will have, please take a minute to read the following letter.
As the Executive Director for the Long Island Advocacy Center (LIAC) I know you value education and the well-being of the communities you represent. I am writing in regards to the proposed budget cuts in Suffolk County for 2021; specifically, the cuts to contract agencies for programs in the Department of Probation. The proposed cuts to our agency from Suffolk County will cause real damage to the youths and families we serve in Suffolk County. In 2019, LIAC’s educational advocacy and legal representation to Juvenile Justice/ court-involved youth potentially saved Suffolk County $27,000,000.
The Long Island Advocacy Center is a not-for-profit agency whose mission is to protect the legal rights of students and individuals with disabilities. We provide education advocacy and legal representation for families to ensure that school districts are providing students with the appropriate levels of support, interventions, and academic placements. LIAC has three contracts with the Suffolk County Department of Probation to work with students in the Alternatives for Youth (AFY) Program, Person In Need of Supervision (PINS) Diversion, and Juvenile Delinquency (JD) Program.
The goal of educational advocacy and legal representation for these programs is to divert youth from entering the adult criminal justice system. LIAC works to acknowledge and understand the barriers these youth have faced and the impact it has had on their ability to be successful in the school setting and to make sure they’re addressed appropriately so students can return to school safely and meet with success. On the surface, these barriers include truancy, incorrigible behaviors, out-of-school suspensions, gang involvement, and substance abuse. What we have found, in almost every family we have worked with, is that the underlying cause of those barriers are very often undiagnosed learning disabilities, undiagnosed mental illness, individual and family trauma, discrimination, and low socio-economic standing. Any one of those underlying factors diminishes a student’s access to an appropriate education; the majority of the students we work with have experienced many of those factors; their involvement in the Juvenile Justice System is the result.
The cuts which Suffolk County has proposed for our agency will necessitate a reduction in our agency’s staffing and will significantly impact our ability to serve the most vulnerable students and their families. The number of youth who are successful in the County’s diversionary programs will decrease and the number of youth who will enter the adult Criminal Justice System will increase drastically. This does not only affect those individuals and their families; your constituents and the rest of Suffolk County will feel the impact as the cost of court placements and incarcerations is astronomical.
The cost to Suffolk County for one youth to receive a court-ordered diagnostic evaluation is approximately $21,000. In 2019, LIAC successfully advocated for 84 students to receive psychiatric evaluations for the students involved in Suffolk County’s PINS Diversion and JD Programs. That’s $1,764,000 the county did not spend.
It costs the County approximately $275,000 for each youth who needs to be court-placed when they are not successful in these diversion programs. In 2019, LIAC successfully advocated for 92 students in diversion programs to receive appropriate therapeutic and residential school placements. Not one of those youth needed to be placed by the county; that is $25,300,000 the county did not spend.
Each time we successfully advocate for a student to receive the free and appropriate public education to which they are entitled, we significantly reduce the chances that the student will drop-out of high school. Extensive research shows that someone who does not complete high school costs the public, over their lifetime, more than $200,000 in criminal justice, social service, and health care costs. In 2019, LIAC worked with over 400 students through the AFY, PINS Diversion, and JD Programs to help each obtain an appropriate education plan.
The onset of COVID-19 has changed the face of education and has highlighted the inequities which exist in our communities. Recently, a family contacted LIAC seeking assistance for their youngest child. She is a 6th grade Special Education student who attends an out-of-district placement for social-emotional and academic support. Her therapeutic placement is providing in-person specialized instruction 5 days/week and students receive all related services and accommodations as dictated by their IEP.
This student has two siblings who attend their grade appropriate schools within their home district. Due to the medical fragility of the parents, a full virtual/remote instruction program was requested for her two siblings. The school district would only grant that request with proof of the parents’ medical conditions and fragility. Upon receiving the required paperwork and proof, the home district granted a full virtual/remote instructional program for her two siblings. The district also abruptly terminated the daughter’s transportation to her out-of-district placement and subsequently informed the parents that if one of their children receives virtual/remote instruction, all of their children must receive the same. This action essentially stripped the student of the appropriate Special Education placement, specialized instruction, related services, and accommodations and the district was not providing FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education), which is the core legal entitlement of every student with a disability.
LIAC attorneys expeditiously prepared a Due Process Complaint/Impartial Hearing Request on behalf of the parents for the New York State Education Department. Knowing that a considerable amount of time can pass during the Impartial Hearing process, and that a child’s education can be significantly undermined, and negatively impacted, during that length of time, LIAC attorneys were also simultaneously communicating with the attorney for the school district to ensure this issue was resolved in the fastest and most appropriate way possible.
Ultimately, our attorneys were able to negotiate a full and immediate return for this student to her out-of-district placement, with specialized transportation, without needing to file the Due Process Complaint. She is back in her appropriate educational placement, receiving the specialized instruction, related services, and accommodations to which she is legally entitled, and is continuing to work towards achieving her social-emotional and academic goals.
As you and your colleagues start the difficult budget process, please consider how vital our services are for your constituents, their families, and our community as a whole. Suffolk County may “save” $156,000 in 2021 by cutting our agency’s funding, but as you can see, Long Island will pay a greater price if LIAC is no longer able to provide our services to the students and families who need them.