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.
For example, PS 94 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn capped its kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades last year, Education Department figures show. Only six percent of its students receive special education services, compared to a 17 percent average at elementary schools in the rest of District 15. Similarly, PS 69 in Bensonhurst had to send zoned children to other schools for kindergarten and has a seven percent special education population, compared with 12 percent in District 20. PS 69 also has about 887 children in a building meant for 626, putting it at 142 percent capacity, according to the city's Blue Book. PS 399 in Flatbush packs about 527 children into a building designed for 282, putting it at 187 percent capacity. It had fewer than six percent special education students, less than half the District 17 average.
And it's not just Brooklyn. PS 51 in Richmond Hill, Queens and PS 64 in Ozone Park are at 179 percent and 149 percent capacity respectively, and both have about a seven percent special education population, half the District 27 average.
City officials predict that more than 17,000 children who used to be placed centrally are now enrolling at their local schools. They say that as kindergarten, pre-k and Gifted and Talented admissions proceed throughout the spring, they will keep track of whether a school can handle all of its zoned students.
"It's too early to project how many students with special needs will enroll in kindergarten next year," said DOE spokeswoman Deidrea Miller. Kindergarten applications were due on March 2 and parents will be notified about assignments beginning March 19.As schools struggle to prepare for the changes, advocates are concerned that learning will suffer if the DOE doesn't take measures to prepare for the overcrowding. They point out that the addition of children who need "self-contained" instruction means finding actual empty classrooms. And some education experts have cautioned that classes that combine general and special education students, known as ICT or Integrated Co-Teaching classrooms, suffer if they become too large.
"The whole nature of inclusion is dicey at the class sizes that we have in some of these schools already," said Leonie Haimson, director of Class Size Matters. "The overcrowding of these classes is really undercutting the potential benefits of this reform, which is in principle a good idea, but DOE has not kept up with the pace of growth."