The elite high schools of New York City have been put on notice. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has mandated that screened high schools must either admit more students with special needs or the Education Department would place the teens for them in an effort to raise academic outcomes for all students.
Screened high schools use criteria such as test scores, essays, and interviews to admit students. Advocates for students with special needs claim that these kids may not have even been encouraged to apply or that schools were simply shutting out those with disabilities. A New York Daily News analysis shows that 11 of the city’s screened high schools admitted less than three kids with special needs last year. As one “A” student with cerebral palsy tells the News, “Sometimes the bar is set so low, it’s like they’re saying they don’t have confidence in us.”
Specialized high schools such as Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School were exempt from this directive because they admit applicants based solely on scores from the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Still, officials would like to increase the number of students with disabilities in these schools as well, as part of an overall effort to move students with special needs into the mainstream.
Chancellor Walcott’s sharply worded email to school principals this month was what set this change in motion. In it, he charged administrators to admit as many students with special needs as neighboring schools or the Education Department would step in. “We recognize that this transition is a substantial one,” he wrote. He pledged help from the Education Department to increase support for students with disabilities to help them settle into the schools.
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