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Elite New York City High Schools Enrolling More Students With Disabilities

More than 1,000 students with individualized education programs are attending 25 of New York City's top high schools—just 3.7 percent of those schools' total enrollment of more than 28,000, but still a marked increase from just four years ago. At that time, the number of students with IEPs at the city's schools stood at just 550. 

Citywide, about 19 percent of New York City students in all grades are in special education. 

The findings come from a report by New York-based education consultant David Rubel and were first reported in Chalkbeat NY. Since 2012, Rubel has been tracking special education enrollments at these top schools, which include elite public magnets such as Bronx Science, Stuyvesant High School, and LaGuardia High School, which focuses on the performing arts. These schools use essays, tests, auditions, or other criteria to admit students.

In 2012, then-Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent what was described as a "sharply worded email" telling principals at these schools to start enrolling more students with individualized education programs. Some schools, such as Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, were considered exempt from the edict because they admit students based only on test scores, but the city was looking for ways to increase special education enrollment at those schools as well. 

"It does seem like it's working. It's on a good upward trend," said Rubel in an interview.

This isn't to suggest that only 1,049 students who attend those schools happen to have disabilities, Rubel said. It's likely that many more might be classified as being in special education if they attended different schools. But students and parents have usually downplayed the need for extra services when they apply for these elite high schools, because these schools have hundreds of applicants for relatively few slots. Or, if parents did mention their children needed accommodations, they were told if their child managed to get into the school that they would do fine without any extra help. 

The increasing numbers mean that more elite high schools in the city are offering co-taught classes, where general educators and special educators work together, Rubel noted in his report. And seven elite high schools have special education enrollments of 10 percent or more, which may rub off on other schools, Rubel said. "If they can do it, so can you," he said. 


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