SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR Dennis Walcott has put the city’s elite high schools on notice to admit more students with special needs, the Daily News has learned.
In a sharply worded email sent to principals this month, Walcott told administrators to admit as many students with special needs as neighboring schools or the Education Department would place the students for them.
“We recognize that this transition is a substantial one,” wrote Walcott, adding that the department would beef up supports for disabled students to help them settle in the high-performing schools.
Last year, 11 of the city’s screened high schools had fewer than three students with special needs, a News analysis shows.
And fewer than half of the city’s 103 screened high schools took as many disabled kids as non-screened neighboring schools.
Screened high schools select students using a variety of criteria, such as test scores, essays and interviews. Advocates believe some students with disabilities may not have been encouraged even to apply or that schools were simply shutting them out.
Bryan Stromer, an “A” student with cerebral palsy who is a junior at the Lab School for Collaborative Studies in Manhattan, said the city can do better.
“Sometimes the bar is set so low, it’s like they’re saying they don’t have confidence in us,” said Stromer.
Walcott said his push to put more kids with special needs in screened high schools, such as Bard High School Early College and Beacon High School, is part of the agency’s effort to improve outcomes for all students.
“Ensuring that incoming ninth graders with disabilities have the same access to screened high schools is just one way that we’re raising academic standards for all of our students,” Walcott said.
The city’s eight specialized high schools, such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science, are exempt from the Chancellor’s new edict because they admit strictly on applicants’ scores on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
But officials said they were looking for ways to increase the number of kids with disabilities in those schools as well, as part of an overall effort to move disabled students to the mainstream.
Advocates applaud the agency’s push to place disabled kids in elite schools, but said the city has to make sure adequate supports are in place.
“Placing more accountability on schools to ensure they admit more students with special needs is a good thing,” said Jaye Bea Smalley, co-president of the Citywide Council on Special Education. “The devil is in the details.”
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