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N.Y.C. Special-Needs Students Lack Services, Access to Elite High Schools

New York City failed to provide special education services to about one in four students who were entitled to them during the 2009-10 school year, the city comptroller has found, and the city's most elite high schools need to admit more students with disabilities.

In an audit this month, New York City Comptroller John Liu found that speech, occupational and physical therapy, vision and hearing services weren't provided to 72,306 of 285,736 students referred for such help, the New York Daily News reported.

He found that the city's education department doesn't have enough contractors to provide these therapies."As a result, (the department) is authorizing the use of independent consultants ... to provide these services, which may result in higher rates paid under lesser performance standards, monitoring constraints, and insurance requirements," he wrote in the audit.

Preschool students in particular didn't get services. The audit found that only 34 percent of the city's 43,000 preschoolers received the therapy they needed, and youngsters in the poorest school districts were the most neglected.

At the same time, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has issued a notice to some of New York's most prestigious high schools.

Walcott told administrators to admit as many students with special needs as neighboring schools or the Department would place the students for them, the Daily News wrote.

"We recognize that this transition is a substantial one," wrote Walcott in an email to principals. He said the department would expand support for students with disabilities to help them make the transition to the high-performing schools.

An analysis by the Daily News found that last year, 11 of the city's selective high schools had fewer than three students with special needs and fewer than half of the city's 103 high schools with some admissions requirements took as many students with disabilities as schools without admissions requirements.

The newspaper reported that Walcott's demands are part of his agency's effort to improve outcomes for all students.

Still, eight city high schools are exempt from his request because they admit students based solely on scores on the city's Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

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