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When I first learned that some parents at IS 187/Christa McAuliffe were gathering signatures to fight an increased percentage of special education students enrolling at their school, I was reminded of an event from my childhood.
When I was 9 or 10 -- about the same age as my son Brooks is now -- neighbors came around with a petition to stop the construction of an apartment development for people with physical disabilities. I have a distinct memory of my dad's immediate disdain for the folks at the door who were far more concerned with their property values than with anyone else's hardships. That was way before he became the grandfather of an autistic child, or for that matter, had any personal relationship with anyone who might benefit from the new housing. It was simply a human knee-jerk reaction—he knew right from wrong, and this was wrong.
I'm having the same reaction to the campaigning Christa McAuliffe parents.
And it's not just me—if you read the 46-and-counting comments on Meredith Kolodner's post, you'll find similar outrage. But you'll also find that these parents are being defended for reasons that make a lot of sense.
Some parents at a top middle school are fighting to stop special education students from “taking seats” from students whose test scores may be higher.
The parents at Brooklyn’s IS 187/Christa McAuliffe, where students must ace standardized exams to be admitted, fear that combining special and general education students in the same classrooms will reduce the level of education. “No parent is going to want their kid in those classes,” said IS 187 PTA co-vice president Virginia Cantone. “The truth of the matter is that the wide spectrum of challenges is too great for any of the children to learn, it’s too great of a difference.”
The parents have been petitioning, emailing elected officials and plan to leaflet elementary schools in southern Brooklyn’s District 20 to convince other parents to join their drive to get Christa McAuliffe exempted from the new special education requirements.
The city’s planned special education reforms mean that nearly all city schools--including most selective programs--must admit the same proportion of special education students, ending a practice in which some schools got huge numbers of special needs children and others got almost none. The specialized high schools and the five city-wide gifted and talented schools are exempt, and some Christa McAuliffe parents think they should be too. IS 187 is the most sought-after school in District 20. Students are admitted based on their state reading and math scores and their scores on a separate test known as OLSAT.
Christa McAuliffe parents don't object to special needs children who meet the school's entrance requirements--as 19 current students have done. These children are high achieving but may have other special needs such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Asperger's syndrone. Neither do the parents object to the 30 very disabled children who attend the school but who are segregated in what are called "self-contained" classrooms. The parents say they would not mind having more of these students since they “don’t mix in the same classrooms.” Rather, the parents are objecting to setting aside seats for special needs children who may not have scored as high on the exams as the rest of the students in the school.
At most of the selective high schools, seats are being held for special education students who must meet the same criteria as the general education students (mostly by scoring a Level 3 or Level 4 on state exams). In McAuliffe’s case, there will be two pools of students created-–one for students with disabilities and one for general education students. The highest scorers in each pool will be admitted. The school has been told they need to admit about 25 special education students into next year’s 6th grade class.
“There will be children who will be crushed who could have gotten into Christa McAuliffe who will have to be in a regular general education class at another school instead,” said Cantone.
Advocates noted that many students with disabilities were also gifted.
“There is a broad spectrum with children with disabilities and many more of them should have access to quality programs,” said Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children. “With the appropriate support and services, there’s no reason those children shouldn’t be able to achieve at the same level as their more typically developing peers.” She expressed concern, however, that the DOE may not have made adequate plans to give disabled children the support they need in classes for the gifted.
A handful of schools, such at NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, have successfully integrated high-achieving special needs children in mainstream classes. These schools have spent years planning and refining their practice so, for example, a math whiz who is also dyslexic gets the help he needs in reading while taking advanced math classes.
The upset parents at IS 187 have gone on an email campaign, delivered petitions to local politicians and are hoping to bring like-minded parents to the next month’s Community Education Council. The District 20 CEC has not taken a position on the issue.
Education Department officials said they were working with the principal and the school community to help them understand the changes but do not plan on exempting the school.
Advocates who support the reforms said they were disturbed but not surprised by the parent response.
“This is a warning sign for us all,” said Jean Mizutani, program director at Resources for Children with Special Needs. “There will be a backlash. I think it’s going to be a challenge for everyone.”
Two dozen new charter schools will be opening next fall, adding to the 136 charters now operating in New York City. Applications for most schools are due by April 1, although several have later dates. Parents may apply online using a common application for some of them. Check the New York City Charter School Center website for details.
There's a mix of elementary, middle, high school and transfer schools, with the majority in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Admission is by lottery, giving priority to residents of the community school district where the school is located. A few have additional admission's priorities. Some locations have been hotly contested by community schools and not all new schools have an address yet, or even a confirmed district. Some, like the three new Success Academies and Icahn or Explore charters, are part of an existing network of schools; others are so-called "mom and pop" charters, without a big organization behind them.
Kindergarten registration begins today and the early word is that some Manhattan and Brooklyn schools have waitlists for kindergarten, although they are somewhat shorter than last year.
The waitlist phenomenon occurs every spring after the first round of applications. Long lists tend to shrink or disappear after families move, choose a private, charter or a gifted and talented program. Still it causes some anxious moments for parents waiting to learn where their child will attend elementary school and there are always some schools that don't have space for all zoned students.
Some parents are still waiting to hear where their children have been placed. Because of a glitch with the Department of Education computer system, some letters announcing the placements weren't sent out until Friday.
Rezoning on the Upper East Side meant the zone for popular PS 290 shrunk and school officials worried they might not even fill all the seats. Instead there is a waitlist of about three dozen zoned students, said Parent Coordinator Sally Mason. PS 59, also on the Upper East Side, will be moving into a brand new building in September, but already has a wait list, the principal said. DNAInfo reports a waitlist of 28 students at PS 116 in the east 40s.
In downtown Manhattan, where several new schools have opened and zoning lines have been redrawn, popular PS 234 still has a waitlist of 38 zoned students. Last year there had a similar number but the school managed to place all of the students, said Parent Coordinator Magda Lenski. She said it was too early to predict what would happen this year. PS 41 in Greenwich Village, also has zoned children waitlisted. PS 3, which shares a zone with PS 41, last year added an additional kindergarten to acommodate the overflow from 41.
Kindergarten registration begins March 26 after families learn this week where their children got accepted. Schools sent out notification letters via email and regular mail by March 23.
While the majority of public school children attend their zoned elementary schools, other families apply to schools the way 18-year-olds apply to college. They visit many, work out the odds of admission and may even have a list of "safetys," and "reaches".
The Education Department's system of choice allows parents to apply virtually anywhere, even though priority in admissions goes to students in the school's zone and district. The odds of getting accepted at a school outside of your neighborhood or district can be slim.
Because of overcrowding some zoned schools can't accommodate all their students, so parents in the know begin early to look and apply elsewhere. (The Education Department will assign students to another district school if there is no space at the zoned school.)
In addition to zoned schools, families may apply to magnet or dual language programs, unzoned schools and charter schools, which are public but independent of the DOE. Since there is no central application, parents go from school to school to apply. In mid-April, children who qualify for gifted and talented programs will apply to another school, or several schools.
We're wondering, how many schools did you apply to for your 5-year-old? And, although it's not in the poll, we're curious to know how many acceptances you get! Take our poll and comment below!
My 16 year old 10th grade daughter received a safety transfer from her very dangerous high school. How do I go about finding a new high school for her?
Confused and anxious
Dear Confused and Anxious.
Transfers are hard to get so your daughter’s experience in an unsafe school must have been harsh. Take the time to find a school that is known for a warm and nurturing atmosphere and which puts emphasis on respectful interactions among student and faculty.
Nearly a dozen new middle schools will open in the Bronx and Brooklyn next fall. New school applications are available now from elementary school guidance counselors in districts 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 23 and 32. Students who apply to a new school may get an offer from two schools -- one they applied to in the main round and a new school. They'll get both offers in the same letter and then will be able to choose, enrollment officials said. That letter will come out some time in May.
A list and description of the new middle schools is on the Department of Education's website. A few, like PS/IS 5 in the Bronx, PS/IS 8 in Brooklyn Heights and Community Roots Charter School in Fort Greene, are successful elementary schools which are expanding to include middle school grades. Those will be good options, which will give priority to continuing students. The Urban Assembly Unison School in Clinton Hill and Young Women's Leadership in the Bronx, are created by organizations that have effectively run other schools and are good bets as well.
Other schools are virtually "replacement schools," moving into buildings where previous middle schools have failed and are being closed by the DOE.
Applications for new middle schools are due March 26.
A change in special education enrollment will likely have some already overcrowded schools coping with a large influx of kindergarten students in the fall.
In past years, most special education students were placed in schools that had space or offered the kinds of classes that could serve them. This year, in an effort to allow more special education students to attend their local schools, most will be enrolled at their community school.
The problem is that some schools that had big kindergarten wait lists last year also had a very low percentage of special needs students, compared with nearby schools. That means the new plan for sending more special education children to their zoned schools could bring even more kindergarteners to the doors of packed schools this fall.
I thought I was courting disaster when I took my four-year-old to Brooklyn's two-hour long pre-k information session Monday night after a full day at pre-school. But with the assistance of an extra large slice of pizza and a cupcake-making app, we made it through without meltdown.
There are upcoming sessions in each borough -- the next one is Thursday in Manhattan -- and you will learn more at them than you can from simply downloading the directory. Officials used a Power Point presentation in a darkened auditorium at Sunset Park High School to explain what a typical day in pre-k looks like, how to apply, and they stuck around for questions afterwards.
There was, however, some jargon about "aligning to common core standards" and other policy efforts that weren't explained in a way that was easy to understand. The Power Point presentation didn't exactly explain how pre-k was "the first step to college and career readiness," but officials were friendly, knowledgeable and more down to earth when answering specific questions. And it was a relief to hear a DOE representative tell us that "when you give children lots of time to run around and play, it helps them intellectually too."
Students who are lucky enough to have actual high school choices can attend open houses this week, where they’ll have a chance to weigh commutes, clubs, classes, homework and social life. Students who haven’t been matched, will be concentrating on where they might get accepted in Round 2.
Others will be thinking about college. Or perhaps they should be.
Wait, Already? After all, most of us who have gone through that second full-time job also known as the hunt for middle and high school may feel entitled to a recovery process, as I noted in my last post.
No such luck. I got another reminder of why living in the moment is not going to fly in today’s crazed admissions landscape when I attended a breakfast last week for a hilarious new book, entitled “The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions,” by J.D. Rothman, who provides a tongue-in-cheek look at what she calls “the most difficult time to get into college in the history of the world.”