Today’s news:

Hotline to fill in for chilly DOE - Public advocate says service will help where city has failed parents

As the school year begins, there’s extra assistance available for parents trying to improve their children’s education.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum has relaunched a hotline to answer parents’ questions and provide important school-related information – 212-669-7250.

Gotbaum created the hotline because the city Department of Education’s (DOE) parent support services are often unhelpful or unavailable, she claims.

“The start of the school year is exciting but it can be a stressful time for parents and students,” Gotbaum said. “The bad news here is DOE has not figured out an effective and consistent way for the CSDs [community school districts] to interact with parents and help answer their questions. The good news is that I am once again launching my education hotline to fill the void and provide parents with a helpful resource and assistance in resolving education-related problems.”

For the last few years, Gotbaum’s staffers have phoned various parent support offices and either couldn’t reach DOE employees or were unable to obtain appropriate information.

Before school started last year, Gotbaum’s staffers placed several phone calls to the main office of each of the city’s 32 school districts. They posed as parents in need of information but in many cases there was no answer on the other end, and when voicemails were left, they often went unreturned.

A similar “survey” conducted this year yielded comparable results.

Between August 12th and 15th, Gotbaum’s staffers made 96 calls to local district family advocates, who the DOE appointed to work as parent liaisons. Of those calls, family advocates were unavailable almost 70 percent of the time.

The family advocate at each of the 32 school districts was called three times – during daytime hours, after 5 p.m., and again during daytime hours but in Spanish.

A DOE spokesperson challenged the findings from Gotbaum’s office.

“We always have questions about the methodology that she uses,” Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes said.

She also noted that the DOE’s Office for Family Engagement and Advocacy, which is led by Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier, has already addressed many of Gotbaum’s concerns.

There’s also the issue of staffing.

In the past, the DOE has argued that district offices, which are home to family advocates, are short-staffed and often overwhelmed by an abundance of phone, email and fax requests, as well as other administrative duties.

This is because in the last few years, regional offices and their parent support officers handled the brunt of calls from parents. But the elimination of the regional structure has left local district offices, which often have just a handful of employees, to handle the calls.

Rather than inundate district offices, the DOE has recommended that parents contact the parent coordinator at their child’s school when seeking information. If the parent coordinator is unable to help or lacks sufficient information, then parents should contact their local district’s family advocate.

Phone numbers for parent coordinators and district family advocates are available on the DOE’s website, http://schools.nyc.gov.

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