What is special education?

If your child is having trouble in school, he may need help from a teacher with special training. This extra help is called special education. It’s free, and your child has a right to it under federal law.

The public school system has a range of specialists who can work with your child, whether his problems stem from physical disabilities, learning difficulties or emotional issues.

Some problems can be solved with the help of your child’s regular classroom teacher. For example, if your child is easily distracted, the teacher may ask him to sit close to her. Individual help before or after school may be all he needs.

But if these strategies don’t work, other help is available. Your child may be placed in a smaller class for part of the day for more focused attention or in a class with two teachers, one of whom has a degree in special education.

Your child may be eligible for what are called "related services." These include counseling, speech therapy, and physical and occupational therapy.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, teachers and staff are supposed to get your child the help he needs in his regular school per the Department of Education's Special Education Reform. They are not supposed to tell you that you have to find another school or that your child must make do with less services than he requires. If the school cannot provide the help your child needs, he may be eligible to attend a private school at the city’s expense.


An IEP describes the services your child needs to succeed. An IEP describes the services your child needs to succeed.

If you think your child may have a disability, ask your school, in writing, for an evaluation by a psychologist. A psychologist will administer a series of tests to determine what kind of extra help your child may need and whether further evaluations by a specialist such as an occupational or physical therapist, may be warranted.

You may prefer to have a private evaluation. Ask your child’s doctor for a referral. This is expensive, but will probably be more complete than the evaluation done by the Department of Education. You may also ask for a private evaluation at the city’s expense if you find the DOE evaluation is inadequate.

Once the evaluation is complete, the school staff will recommend an IEP (individual education plan). You must approve this plan. The IEP is a legal document that describes the services to which your child is entitled.

If your child’s behavior interferes with his education or that of other students, the school may request a functional behavior assessment.The school must develop strategies to address the child's behavior.

504 accommodations

Sometimes children with disabilities need inexpensive, common-sense changes in classroom routines to help them succeed in school. For example, a child with a learning disability may need extra time on tests. A child who is visually impaired may need books with large print.

These simple changes are called 504 accommodations, named after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bans discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability in federally funded programs.

Every school should have a person designated as the 504 coordinator. Requests for accommodations must be submitted in writing to the coordinator. The 504 coordinator then schedules a meeting with a child’s parents and teachers within 30 days. A 504 plan is not an IEP. However, like an IEP, it is a legal document that the school must follow.

What services are available?

A wide range of services is available, including psychological counseling, occupational therapy (help with sensory integration or fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil), physical therapy (help with gross motor skills, such as walking), and speech and language therapy.

  • Your child may need help from a special education teacher in his regular class, or he may get extra help outside his regular class a few hours a week. This help is called resource room or SETSS (special education teacher support services).
  • Your child may be assigned to a class that has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. This is called ICT (integrated co-teaching), formerly CTT (collaborative team-teaching). In such classes, students with special needs make up no more than 40 percent of the class and learn alongside their general education peers.
  • A child with Asperger's (a high-functioning form of autism) may be eligible for a NEST program. Like other team-teaching classes, NEST classes have two teachers and a mix of general education and special education pupils.
  • A child with severe disabilities may be assigned a small, separate class with other disabled children. This is called a self-contained class.
  • In rare circumstances, a child with severe disabilities may be assigned to a special school, called a District 75 school. The district family advocate at District 75, (400 First Avenue, NY, NY 10010) may be able to provide guidance. Call (212) 802-1614. See also A Shared Path to Success: Family Guide to Special Education Services for School-Age Children.

Questions to ask

All schools are supposed to offer special education services, but the reality is some schools are much more accommodating than others. If your child has special needs, you want to make sure he goes to a school that will help him succeed. Questions to ask:

  • Does your school have ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes (classes with two teachers)?
  • What kind of individual help can the teachers give my child?
  • How many special education teachers does the school have?
  • Do most of the school's special education students graduate with a Regents diploma?

If you have difficulties

Many parents have enormous difficulty getting the help their child needs. If you have trouble getting services, or you disagree with the Department of Education’s recommendation for your child, you may request mediation. Mediation is a meeting with a representative from the Department of Education and an independent mediator, such as New York Peace Institute (formerly Safe Horizons). Information about their special education mediation services can be found here

Send requests for mediation to your child's school and to NY Peace Institute's Mediation Center: 

New York Peace Institute Brooklyn Mediation Center

210 Joralemon Street, Suite 618 Brooklyn, NY 11201

Telephone: 718.834.6671, Fax: 718.834.6681 


If mediation doesn’t work, you may request an impartial hearing by writing to the Office of Impartial Hearings, 131 Livingston Street, Room 201, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Requests should include your child’s name and address, the name of her school, the nature of the problem and a proposed resolution. Hearing decisions may be appealed to the state.

Your child has a right to stay put in his current school while you are challenging the DOE. Both the parents and the school must agree to change a child's placement.

Noteworthy special education: elementary schools

These programs were recommended by special education advocates, parents’ groups, university researchers and Insideschools staffers. We looked for schools with high academic standards (reflected by better-than-average test scores); that treat all children kindly; and that serve a substantial number of special needs students. This list is not exhaustive and we welcome additional suggestions.


PS 89 (Battery Park City): This school was one of the first to implement team teaching classes. Some parents have praised it for the support it provides to students with learning disabilities.

PS 41 (Greenwich Village): On a 2012 visit, Insideschools found the school fully integrated special needs children "without stigma." The school has three speech therapists and offers occupational therapy

PS 158 (Upper East Side): "The school has an extensive special education program including occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech services, vision and hearing services and adaptive physical education for the disabled,'' as well as team-teaching and self-contained classes, Insideschools found on a visit in 2011.

PS 112 and PS 206 (East Harlem): PS 112 (serving K-2) and PS 206 (serving grades 3 to 8) share a building. PS 112 has an "Intensive K" class for children who are not appropriate for the NEST K but may be after one year of intensive social/language/behavior support. It also has a dual-language NEST class. “This is an exciting place to learn, whether it’s art (Studio in a School) or video chatting with children in China,” said special ed advocate Dorothy Siegel. PS 206 has a NEST program for middle school students with autistic spectrum disorders. More than a third of PS 206 students have IEPs, with 83 percent of them in less restrictive settings.

PS 199 (Upper West Side): One of the city's first barrier-free schools, PS 199 has a legacy of serving students with physical challenges. Students with all types of disabilities, depending on the level of support they need, are enrolled in either the general or special education classrooms. Wheel-chair accessible playground.

Manhattan School for Children (Upper West Side): This wheelchair accessible school is in the forefront of "inclusion," integrating severely disabled children in general education classes. The school goes to great lengths to help disabled children take part in regular classes. For example, a keyboard with pictures allows a child who cannot speak to express himself. About 120 children have IEPs, and 32 have severe motor challenges.

PS 75 (Upper West Side): The school has two integrated co-teaching classes on every grade level, some of which are dual language -- English and Spanish. Some severely handicapped children from District 75 attend regular classrooms, with extra assistance offered in the class. The school hosts an ASD Nest progam for students on the autism spectrum.

PS 48 (Washington Heights): In 2009, the school won the National Center for Learning Disabilities; Pete & Carrie Rozelle Award given to schools that are particularly successful teaching children with learning disabilities. PS 48 offers bilingual special ed services.

Brooklyn elementary

PS 172 (Sunset Park): Nearly a quarter of all students have IEPS and all in grades 3 through 5 scored proficient on the state math test. Those are very high test scores for anyone—particularly for students with disabilities.

PS 380 (Williamsburg/Greenpoint): The school offer a bilingual English/Yiddish special ed programs. It shares space with a District 75 school and works to include its students in PS 380's activities. In 2011, the school won the National Center for Learning Disabilities; Pete & Carrie Rozelle Award for schools that are particularly successful in addressing the learning and social/emotional needs of students with learning disabilities. The group praised PS 380 for its inclusion efforts and said, "Students identified with learning disabilities have their progress closely monitored and receive the additional time and support that they need to be successful."

PS 32 (Carroll Gardens): There is a wide range of extra help available including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech. The school is particularly known for its NEST program in which high-functioning children with autism learn the critical social skills that otherwise elude them, Insideschools found in 2011.

Brooklyn New School (Carroll Gardens): "On every grade, there are classes that mix special and general education students in one room with two teachers, one trained in special education. Two specially trained teachers work in the classrooms or pull small groups out for quiet, concentrated sessions. There is a designated occupational and physical therapy room and other services on-site, including speech and guidance," Insideschools reported after a 2011 visit.

PS 10 Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technolog (Park Slope): In 2011, Inside Schools found that "school leaders have made a significant commitment to children with special needs, including a fully accessible playground." The Park Slope school is largely barrier free and has ample adaptive equipment so all children can participate in school activities. A team assessing special ed (http://www.s3tairproject.com/validatedpractices/371_PS10.cfm) praised PS 10 for integrating all students into its rich arts program." The school has also provided extensive professional development on collaborative team teaching.

PS 295 (Park Slope): "The school takes particular pride in its special education program, which has a wait list and serves nearly one-third of the population," Insideschools reported in 2009. The school offers bilingual special ed services. Students with IEPs in its team teaching classes recorded substantial gains on the state ELA test in 2010-11.

PS 372, The Children's School (Park Slope): One of the first schools to provide team teaching classes for special and general education students, PS 372 says it "is the only elementary school in New York City where all children, from pre-K to fifth grade, work side by side throughout the school day with classmates who have a range of abilities and disabilities." In addition to its main building in Park Slope, it has an outpost in Fort Greene for children with autism spectrum disorders.

PS 15, Patrick Daly School (Red Hook): This school has a high percentage of special education students and offers both self-contained and team teaching classes. Many of its students receive occupation or physical therapy. The Department of Education has recognized its efforts to close the achievement gap among special ed students.

PS 244 (East Flatbush): This barrier free school offers a NEST program for higher functioning children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Dorothy Siegel, the founder of NEST, has praised it for being loving, having high academic standards and serving all special needs children.

PS 222 (Gravesend): The school offers a NEST program for high functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. Dorothy Siegel, the founder of NEST, says PS 222 is a loving school with high academic standards that serves all special needs children well.

Queens elementary

PS 46 Alley Pond (Bayside): The school was one of the first in the district to offer inclusion classes, and its commitment to special ed continues. The principal, Marsha Goldberg, was previously the District 26 supervisor for special ed. The school features an auditorium with a wheel-chair accessible stage and a corridor dedicated to support services for students with special needs, including an elevator and a physical therapy room. (http://queenscourier.com/2011/bayside-school-p-s-46-leads-district-in-progress-reports/)

PS 186 Castlewood (Bayside): The school has a NEST program for students with autism spectrum disorders and shares space with a District 75 school. Castlewood "includes students who have moderate to severe learning disabilities in many of the general education classrooms. The staffs of the two schools engage in mutual professional development and decision-making while sharing resources and expertise. Parents of students with disabilities are fully involved with all school activities and are an important component in school success," according to a (http://www.s3tairproject.com/validatedpractices/194_ps186Q.cfm) report by New York's STAIR Project.

Renaissance Charter School (Jackson Heights): This K-12 school has a long history of integrating special needs children into general education classrooms.

Bronx elementary

PS 396 (Bronx): This school is home to an ASD NEST program, which features inclusion classes for high functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. The school staff (http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/media/users/al170/UFT396Article.pdf) includes occupational, physical and speech therapists. “A very good school serving a very poor neighborhood that includes a homeless shelter,” says Dorothy Siegel. “The new principal is very good.”

Staten Island elementary

The Michael J. Petrides School (Staten Island): The school offers a NEST program for students with autism spectrum disorders. Staten Island parents consider it a good place for special ed students and praise the principal for her work.

PS 69 Daniel D Tompkins (Staten Island): This school, which has a NEST program, has a good reputation on Staten Island. “People with special needs children move into the zone to go to PS 69,” said Siegel. “The principal is amazing.”

Noteworthy special education: middle schools

These programs were recommended by special education advocates, parents’ groups, university researchers and Insideschools staffers. We looked for schools that have high academic standards (often reflected by better-than-average test scores); that treat all children kindly; and that serve a substantial number of special needs students. This list is not exhaustive and we welcome additional suggestions.


PS/MS 276 (Battery Park City): Rather than segregate students with IEPs into self-contained classes, or even into team-teaching classes, small numbers of students with the same learning problems are grouped within a regular class and given targeted help. "A student might need extra help in ELA but not in math," the principal told Insideschools. "It doesn’t make sense to give him [team teaching] in everything."

East Side Community School (East Village): This combined middle and high school has a high percentage of students with IEPs, a very high percentage of whom graduate with regular diplomas (rather than IEP diplomas, which are basically a certificate of attendance.)

School of the Future (Gramercy Park): Special education students in this combined middle and high school are accommodated in a "way that is not stigmatizing," Insideschools found in a 2011 visit. Students are assigned to regular classes but can get help from a special education teacher, who will work with the subject teacher to modify lessons to meet the student's needs and abilities. Special education students have registered exceptional gains, according to the Department of Education. • NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Education (Chelsea) The school is a pioneer in the inclusion model of special education. Two of the six homeroom sections on each grade are team-taught classes that mix special needs and general ed students and that have two teachers.

Clinton School for Writers and Artists (Chelsea): All children, including those with disabilities, receive arts instruction and participate in activities like the school musical and ballroom dancing. The school gets high marks from the city for reducing the achievement gap between special ed students and other students. The school no longer has “self-contained” or segregated classes. Those who were classified as needing a self-contained class have been successfully placed in mixed classes (called ICT or integrated co-teaching) with two teachers, one of whom is special education certified.

NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies (Chelsea): This school is a pioneer in the inclusion model of special education. Nearly half of its classes use the Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) model.  The school typically enrolls 80 - 90 students with special needs who are screened for strong academic ability.

Quest to Learn (Chelsea): This new but promising combined middle and high welcomes special needs children. About a quarter of kids here have IEPs. The school offers team-taught (ICT classes) in which a teacher trained in special education works alongside a teacher certified in a particular subject, like math or English.

Mott Hall II (Upper West Side): Parents say the school has high expectations for special needs children and provides them with the help they need. In addition to team teaching classes, it has one self-contained class serving about 12 students. The school gets high marks from the city for reducing the achievement gap between special ed students and other students.

Community Action School (Upper West Side): The school has a nice atmosphere and a history of inclusion.

Esperanza Prep (East Harlem): This dual language (English-Spanish) school welcomes students with special needs. About a third of students have IEPs, and in some tests, they have outperformed the general population. The school has self-contained and team-teaching (CTT) classes for all grades and offers physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy and counselors.


New Voices School of Academic and Creative Arts (Park Slope): This art-oriented school offers collaborative team teaching. "The school strives to provide support services in the classroom rather than pulling out students." New Voices gets high marks from the city for reducing the achievement gap between special ed students and other students.

Math and Science Exploratory School (Cobble Hill): The school has a NEST program serving a small group of children with autism spectrum disorder. All students with special needs, including those in NEST, are fully integrated into team-teaching classes. The students with autism spectrum disorder have their own special education teacher who travels with them from class to class. The school gets high marks on its school report card for reducing the achievement gap between special ed students and other students.

Brooklyn Studio Secondary School (Bensonhurst): The inclusion of special education students in general education classes has been a hallmark of the 6 through 12 school since its founding. The school also seeks to make it clear that all students have different needs and those with disabilities are not the only ones requiring extra attentions. As part of that paraprofessionals assigned to special ed help teachers with all students.

Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies (Carroll Gardens): This combined middle and high school offers a range of special education services and one-quarter of the students have IEPS. The school shows unusually high academic gains among students with IEPS, according to the Department of Education.

New Horizons (Carroll Gardens): The inclusion of special education students with the general population is at the core of New Horizon's missions. All classes at the school are co-taught, and the principal takes particular care in pairing teachers who work well together. (Test scores for special ed students, though, tend to be low.)


IS 227 Louis Armstrong (Elmhurst): The barrier-free building has an adaptive physical education room filled with mats and equipment and many of its students participate in a Special Olympics. The school offers the gamut of special ed options: team teaching, SETSS and self-contained classes for every grade. The city has given Louis Armstrong high marks for reducing the achievement gap between special ed students and other students.

Village Academy (Far Rockaway): The principal comes with a background -- and success -- in special education, and the school has team teaching classes on every grade. (Test scores for special ed students, though, tend to be low.)


Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science (South Bronx): This combined middle and high school has an extra guidance counselor to help special needs students, in addition to the licensed special education teacher on each grade. Children who need special help are often placed in smaller classes with strong teachers, rather than in larger team-taught classes.

Noteworthy special education: high schools

We picked a few schools that have long history of success with special needs students. We also highlight new schools that have a promising approach, even if they are too new to have solid results. Not every school works for every child, and finding a good high school for students with disabilities is particularly tough. To complicate matters, we weren’t able to get good data on high school students with special needs, so our selections rely more on our observations than on hard numbers.

For other options for high school grades, see our elementary school entry for the Renaissance Charter School. Also, see our middle school entries for East Side Community High School, Quest to Learn, School of the Future, Brooklyn Studio School, Brooklyn School of Collaborative Studies, and Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science—which all serve high school as well as middle school students.


Millennium High School (Financial district): Millennium offers a challenging college-prep curriculum to children with special needs. About 10 percent of the students receive special education services and students may be assigned to team-teaching classes with two teachers or may meet regularly in a small group with a teacher. A few severely disabled children from District 75 are integrated into regular classes.

NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies (Chelsea): The school is a pioneer in the inclusion model of special education, enrolling students with special needs who, like the rest of students here, have strong academic abilities. According to the Department of Education, special ed students in the school have registered exceptional gains. It has collaborative team teaching but no self-contained special ed classes.

City-As-School (Chelsea): City-As-School has provided a non-traditional academic haven for struggling students since 1972. It welcomes students who lost their way when they lost their homes, high-achieving kids who got off-track and teens who dropped out from boredom or because they were bullied one too many times for the way they looked. All students are integrated into mainstream classes, including those who were previously assigned to self-contained classrooms or are coming from institutions.

• Food and Finance (Midtown West): At this vocational school, there are team-taught academic and cooking classes. Like all students, those with special needs may take AP courses and get real-world food service experience with off-campus internships their senior year. The school graduates an impressive amount of students with special needs.  

Central Park East High School (East Harlem): The school is committed to integrating students with special needs in general education classes, with teachers working to support children who struggle while challenging those who are more able. There are collaborative team-teaching classes for all grades and all subjects. In addition, at-risk students are assigned a "mentor teacher" who makes sure they receive all the services to which they are entitled. There are no self-contained classes.

Urban Assembly New York Harbor School (Governor's Island): The school offers a wide range of special education services. On a 2010 visit, Insideschools observed a small, self-contained class in which students were getting one-on-one attention from teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham methods to improve reading skills. The school also offers counseling, speech therapy and occupational therapy.


High School of Telecommunications (Sunset Park); Teachers have high standards for special education pupils. More than 200 students receive services including physical and occupational therapy, speech, counseling, team teaching and self-contained classes. The team-teaching classes we visited had energetic teachers and engaged students.

Transit Tech Career and Technical Education High School (East New York): This vocational schools offers self-contained and team teaching classes and resource rooms from 15 special ed teachers. All shop areas are open to special ed students. The school tries to mix special education and general education kids in the small groups that are the basis of many shop classes and feels it has had some success with that. (The graduation rate for special ed students, though, remains fairly low.)


High School for Arts and Business (Corona): This school offers a number of team teaching classes and special ed classes for English language learners but no self-contained classes. A high percentage of students with IEPs receive Regents diplomas.

Queens High School of Teaching (Bellerose): This school has taken inclusion seriously since it opened in 2003. It embraces not only its own students but also severely disabled students in a District 75 school that shares the building. Integrating everyone to the greatest extent possible, school administrators believe, benefits all students -- not just those with disabilities.

The Bronx

Belmont Prep (Fordham): Principal Stephen Gumbs, who attended an Ivy League college despite having a math-disability, believes that special needs students can excel academically He points out that a Belmont Prep valedictorian one year had dyslexia. Students in self-contained classes change rooms for each subject and have teachers who are licensed in both their subject matter and in special education. The school offers special education teacher support services (SETSS) and self-contained classes but does not offer collaborative team teaching.

Editors' note: Insideschools used several criteria to compile these lists of noteworthy schools. We consulted with experts who offered their thoughts on outstanding programs. We relied on what we saw in our visits to schools. And we looked at the numbers: percent of students with IEPs, their test scores and graduation rates. We looked for principals who have a commitment to addressing the needs of all students, notably those with disabilities, and for a depth of services, programs for the hearing-impaired, say, or bilingual classes.

In general, the schools we selected had a substantial percentage of students with special needs, achievement figures at or above the city average for special education programs, and good word of mouth. Not all schools, though, meet all criteria. In addition, we also sought out schools that meet needs other schools neglect. For example, the Lab School and Millennium take high achieving children with special needs that other screened schools shun.

Insideschools' list of notable special education programs does not include every good program in the city. We welcome suggestions for other good programs (tweet @insideschools or email info@insideschools.org). And the list alone cannot tell you whether the school is right for your child. For that, you will need to visit the school yourself and ask questions.