Walcott: NY Schools Should Admit More Special Needs Students

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has ordered New York City’s top high schools to admit more students with special needs — or see the Department of Education place the students for them.

Chancellor Walcott put the city’s elite high schools on notice in a sharply worded email sent to principals, writes Ben Chapman at the New York Daily News.

“We recognize that this transition is a substantial one,” wrote Walcott.

He added that, if necessary, the Department of Education would intervene to help disabled students settle in the schools.

According to the New York Daily News, 11 of the 103 city’s screened high schools had fewer than three students with special needs last year. Fewer than half of the city’s screened schools took as many disabled kids as non-screened neighboring schools.

Screened high schools select students on their test scores, essays and interview ability. Some fear that students with disabilities may have been dissuaded from applying to the schools, or that schools were simply shutting them out.

Chapman cites the case of Bryan Stromer. Stromer is an “A” student with cerebral palsy who is a junior at the Lab School for Collaborative Studies in Manhattan. And he believes that the schools could and should be doing more.

“Sometimes the bar is set so low, it’s like they’re saying they don’t have confidence in us.”

Walcott wants to improve outcomes for all students in the city. He wants to see more action in bringing in kids with special needs in screened high schools as part of an overall effort to move disabled students to the mainstream.

“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.

Advocates are said to be pleased to hear of Walcott’s call — subject to ensuring that the city puts in place adequate support.

Jaye Bea Smalley, co-president of the Citywide Council on Special Education, said:

“Placing more accountability on schools to ensure they admit more students with special needs is a good thing.

“The devil is in the details.”