As the May 10 deadline for parents to rank gifted and talented applications approaches, one Insideschools message board became a hotbed of anxiety. “Do you know what G&T is supposed to do with kids who get accepted to a G&T school but have IEP's requiring ICT placement?” asked one parent. “My son also has an IEP and is in ICT and is G&T. No place for him....” echoed another. The questions about inclusive gifted classes didn’t stop.
Parents want it, educators applaud it, and the DOE supports the idea—at least in theory. But a year after special education reform, there is still not a single combined G&T/ICT class in the city. No one seems to understand why.
"Twice exceptional” or "2e" kids are cognitively gifted children who also struggle with learning and attention disorders. Many of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class, which has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. The special education reform rolled out in all schools last year is meant to allow students to attend their school of choice and still receive needed special services, including these team-taught classes.
Like many administrators we spoke to, Assistant Principal Nicole Nelson of the progressive citywide G&T school Brooklyn School of Inquiry, was surprised but intrigued by the idea of a combination G&T/ICT class, though she didn’t see it happening any time soon. “Once a child is with us we stick with them,” she said of students needing learning support. “We hope to change their environment to make it work and if that involved an ICT and we had enough kids we would do it.” Principal Donna Taylor agrees. "If there were [ICT/G&T classes], I'd be first in line,” she said, pointing out that the admissions process doesn't enable grouping children with similar needs; first kids have to pass the G&T test and then they have to be chosen in the lottery.
But according to the Department of Education, there is no minimum number of special education students required for the creation of an ICT class. Just one is enough. Still, many schools do not want to pay for an extra teacher merely to satisfy a handful of IEPs.
Lack of direction from the DOE and plain old inertia contribute to the limited options for 2e kids, say some parents. Miriam*, the mother of a kindergartner at the G&T program at PS 32 in District 15 says the social worker at her son’s Turning 5 meeting insisted she had to remove the ICT requirement from her son’s IEP after he qualified for the gifted program last spring—misinformation that she believes is common. Many gifted schools counsel parents to change their child’s IEP to require a full-time paraprofessional instead of an ICT class, a practice that Principal Donny Lopez of PS 163 on the Upper West Side confirms is prevalent. "Schools will do the best to support what the IEP states, but if someone has the need for an ICT, sometimes these needs can be met by a one-to-one para. Schools will make accommodations."
Another obstacle to the reform may be parent resistance, or at least the perception of it. “I could see parents having concerns,” said James Lark, a social worker at PS 166 in District 3. “G&T parents worship our program. I don’t know how amenable they would be in terms of an ICT program in conjunction with G&T.” For some incoming families the fear of prejudice toward their 2e kids is enough to forgo applying to gifted programs altogether.
Marci Shaw, the parent coordinator at The Anderson School, one of five citywide gifted schools, is not surprised by rumors of intolerance for special needs children at her school. As the mother of two Anderson graduates herself, one of whom struggled with learning issues, she denies these rumors adamantly. “Lots of kids here need extended time or have problems like dysgraphia. We don’t have a large number of kids with significant issues, but according to law, if someone has an IEP we are required to deal with it.”
Part of the problem, she said, is a lack of resources. Anderson doesn't have even a part-time special ed staff. “We’re really strapped,” she said. “When someone comes in with an IEP, between now and September it’s a scramble to find the money to hire therapists.”
Although the special education reforms have been in place for a year, administrators may need some time to catch up. How efficiently schools support 2e kids going forward will have a strong impact on their overall well-being, Dr. Daniela Montalto, a neuropsychologist at NYU’s Child Study Center, wrote via email. She explained that many 2e children lose confidence and have trouble making friends without adequate support. “These students are bright enough to know that something is impeding their abilities and often feel frustrated, angry or confused by their inability to show all that they know.” She added that the DOE should consider providing ICT classes for gifted children.
Sarah,* the mother of two elementary students at NEST+M (both with IEPs), has seen her son’s self-confidence suffer. She describes her 5th-grader as having high grades and being at the top of his class in math, although he needs a full-time paraprofessional to manage his behavior. “My son puts so much effort into his behavior and he has made progress. It’s not for lack of wanting to improve.” Still, she says the school tried to counsel him out before the recent special ed reforms were put in place. Administrators at NEST+M could not be reached to comment.
The effort of advocating for her son has taken a toll, emotionally and financially. “It’s one of the reasons I’m not working,” says Sarah, who makes a habit of attending citywide special education meetings, posting on 2e message boards and speaking with DOE officials. Her tenacity with Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi paid off when the DOE granted her son a behaviorist to work with him in school, a rare occurrence that she said was life changing while it lasted. The specialist has since quit.
When asked about the possibility of combination G&T/ICT classes, Rello-Anselmi’s office issued this statement: “We are working to build the capacity of G&T programs to create programs to meet student needs, including ICT. The DOE encourages the participation of students with disabilities in our gifted and talented programs. All of our schools, including those with G&T programs, work to meet the needs of students with IEPs in the least restrictive environment appropriate for them. We are committed to promoting student achievement by ensuring that students have the supports they need to succeed.”
For many 2e parents, this isn’t enough.
“I’ve formed the opinion that to really get G&T/ICT classes to work, the DOE should probably start a couple in several central schools that currently have both G&T classes and ICT classes. So the administration has expertise delivering both,” said Sarah, adding that these schools could serve as models for other programs. “I think one thing hindering the reform is that parents don’t want their kids to be guinea pigs.”
Evie Rabeck, parent of a 3rd-grader with an IEP at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, agrees. “I always thought what my kid needed would have been a G&T/ICT class.” Although Rabeck has been pleased with her son’s progress at the school, which she says has been welcoming and supportive from the start, she says it’s up to parents to make things happen. “The system does not support these kids. Every parent has to be a noisy, loud, obnoxious super-advocate for what their child needs. It’s a fight. I’m a little tired of fighting, but it’s a fight."
Parents who would like to learn more about their rights and what the DOE is doing to advocate for 2e children, should email Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi’s office at email@example.com. Parents may also wish to contact the advocacy group Resources for Children with Special Needs or post their comments here.
*Parent requested that her real name not be used to protect anonymity.