Some highly sought after high schools won't have to enroll more special education students this fall, even as others work to boost their numbers and meet city-mandated targets.
Bard, Baruch and Eleanor Roosevelt, all in Manhattan, are among 27 high schools that are exempt from enrolling a mandated number of special needs students in their 9th grade classes this fall. City officials said the schools will be asked to meet targets in the fall of 2013.
The schools given exemptions fall into three categories: the city's 14 International schools that serve new immigrants; seven schools that require auditions; and six hyper-competitive academically screened schools. (An additional nine specialized high schools, governed by state law, are also exempt.)
The city's special ed reforms are aimed at increasing access to quality programs for students with special needs who are often scarce at the city's top schools.
Advocates said the International school exemption for this year was the most understandable, as the schools grapple with the overlapping needs of students new to the country, some of whom may have been out of school for several years. Evaluating these students for disabilities and finding instructors trained to teach them can be a more complicated and time-consuming process.
The audition schools are more perplexing. Education Department officials said they were exempt because the audition periods had passed when the reform was announced. But they did not explain why 22 other high schools requiring auditions all had to meet their targets. For example, Professional Performing Arts High School in midtown Manhattan is exempt while the Choir Academy of Harlem is not.
Perhaps even more curious is the fact that at least two of the exempt audition schools had special needs populations in 2011 that exceeded the district average, which is generally being used as the target for high schools.
But advocates were most concerned about the exemption of the six high-performing screened schools, all of which have very low percentages of special needs students. City officials said that the elite schools hadn't received a target last year, so they had an extra year to comply.
"The community schools don't have an extra year," said Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children. "Some of them had incredibly low percentages, and they are doing it this year."
In fact, when parents at academically-demanding IS 187/Christa McAuliffe in Brooklyn demanded an exemption after learning in January that they would have to admit a significant number of students with special needs, the city refused.
"It just doesn't sit right," Moroff said. "The DOE has the same obligations to provide these schools with the support to meet all students' needs."
Exempt schools and their 2011 special ed population
(Citywide high school average special education population: 14%)
Medgar Evers College Preparatory School <1%
Bard High School Early College 1%
Baruch College Campus High School 2%
Eleanor Roosevelt High School 2%
Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School 2%
Professional Performing Arts High School 3%
New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math High School (NEST) 3%
Talent Unlimited High School 4%
Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts 7%
Brooklyn School for Music & Theatre 11%
Gramercy Arts High School 12%
Theatre Arts Production Company School 17%
Fordham High School for the Arts 22%
International High School at Union Square 0%
Newcomers High School 0%
Brooklyn International High School 0%
Pan American International High School at Monroe 0%
International High School at LaGuardia 0%
Kingsbridge International High School <1%
International High School at Lafayette 1%
Pan American International High School 1%
Manhattan International School 1%
International Community High School 2%
Bronx International High School 2%
International High School at Prospect Heights 2%
Flushing International High School 2%
Manhattan Bridges High School 2%