Elite NYC Schools Must Admit More Students With Disabilities

New York City school chancellor Dennis Walcott has ordered the city’s elite high schools to admit more students with disabilities. The city’s screened high schools admit students based on test scores, essays and interviews. In an email to principals last month, Walcott informed them that they must admit as many students with disabilities as neighboring schools, or his department will place the students for them.

According to the New York Daily News, 11 of the city’s 103 screened high schools had fewer than three students with disabilities last year. Fewer than half of the screened high schools took as many students with disabilities as non-screened neighboring schools. In many cases, students with disabilities may simply not have been informed that they could apply to screened high schools, perhaps due to unacknowledged (and incorrect) assumptions about them not being able to perform well academically. Advocates also note that schools may have been “simply shutting out” students with disabilities.

In addition, education officials are seeking ways to increase the number of students at the city’s eight specialized schools including Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science. Currently, admission to these schools is based entirely on scores on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

Increasing enrollments for students with disabilities at screened schools is part of the Education Department’s efforts to improve outcomes for all students. The New York Daily News quotes Walcott:

“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 also said that the Education Department would increase supports for students with disabilities at the screened high schools. Disability advocates, while applauding Walcott’s announcement to mainstream more students by placing them in the least restricted environment, emphasized the need for such additional supports, which could vary based on an individual student’s needs: Some students might need an in-class aide while others might need certain kinds of assistive technology, for instance.

I am hopeful that the NYC Education Department will indeed stick to its saying that it will provide adequate supports for students with disabilities at screened high schools. In addition, those schools’ communities will need to understand that such supports are not “extras” or “extra help” but accommodations that students with disabilities are entitled to under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to help them learn in school environments that may not be set up to provide for their educational needs as defined in their Individual Education Plans.

With that said, Walcott’s insistence that students with disabilities be equally enrolled at screened high schools, and even, at some point, at all of the city’s schools, is commendable. Too often, standards are — consciously or not — lowered for students with disabilities who qualify for special education services. It goes without saying that, provided they meet the academic criteria, all students should have the right to attend the public schools they qualify for.

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Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago


Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe6 years ago

All kids should have the right to attend any school to enrich their education. If they have disabilities, the school should provide assistance to help them get that education.
My concern is bullies. A disabled child would be an easy target for them. A solution would be to kick the bully out and keep the disabled child.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

It's about accommodating the needs of all students as best we can...

Penny C.
penny C6 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Depends on disability.

Marion W.
Marion W6 years ago

If a disability is physical and not mental, that person should be allowed to attend any school they want. If the disability is mental, they should receive as much education as they are capable of, but I don't think they should be in the same classroom with students who are not mentally disabled. They disrupt the class and require a lot more attention from the teacher. This keeps the non-mentally disabled students from receiving the best education they are capable of. If 25% of a class are mentally disabled and 75% are not, the 75% shouldn't be held back to the level of the 25%.

iii q.
g d c6 years ago


Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

The NYC school district just need to do it for them, otherwise they will only pick the higher functioning disabled. Lets be honest, if they are already hand picking their students what will change?

Kat Head
Katherine H6 years ago

Good for Dennis Walcott! I really hate it when people discriminate against disabled people. My brother has autism and Fragile X, and we're lucky enough to live in an understanding area with good school systems, but I can't imagine what we'd do if he hadn't been admitted into such a wonderful school program.

James Campbell
James Campbell6 years ago

Moving out of my professional persona (I am a doctor) with which I often post to these threads to a more personal mode, I should mention that I am in a wheelchair. and have been since my teens. I was accepted at university on the basis of ability, despite the fact that at the time, I had barely any movement below my neck. To lower the entry requirements would have been an insult as it would have suggested that disabled students automatically have lower achievements. I was more than capable of ‘keeping up’ with the work, It was the college that had to adapt its facilities to my needs and so it should be for children in schools. I can now move my arms in a limited way and my disability has not prevented me from carrying out my professional commitment to children (in mental health services). Disabled people want and need to be treated as everyone else providing the ‘playing field’ is level. This levelling may involve provision of an accessible building and teaching support, but it can and must be done if we are to achieve equality of opportunity for all.