All 5th graders will turn in applications for middle school this Friday, Dec. 21. That includes students with special education needs who will fill out the same application as other children.

There is often some confusion about the process, even after the roll-out of the special education reform this year. Now all schools are expected to accept students with special needs, which wasn't the case in the past. Parents say that outreach was poor at some schools last year, with special needs students unaware that they could apply.

To help families of children with special needs better understand their rights when applying to middle school, Advocates for Children put together a list of recommendations and tips. See their suggestions after the jump.

  • If your child requires an accessible school, you probably know that only some of NYC’s public schools are functionally accessible, meaning a student who uses a wheelchair can enter the building and access all relevant programs and services.  Others are partially accessible with students being able to get to the first floor, but not above.  Some schools are not accessible at all.  Each school’s accessibility status will be listed in the district directories and a full list of accessible  schools can be found here.  You can also see at a glance on an Insideschools profile page whether a school is accessible.
  • If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) that recommends a District 75 program, you may choose not to participate in the middle school admissions process.  You will still receive a placement offer in a District 75 program in the late spring,
  • If your child receives any testing accommodations, he  is entitled to receive those accommodations for any admissions related tests or evaluations.  While it is good practice for all schools to check and see if a child will need testing accommodations, it would be wise for you to notify the schools to which you’re applying beforehand to be certain accommodations are arranged.
  • If you are interested in applying to a charter school listed in the middle school directories, you should know that charter schools are required to provide special education services. For more information on this, see AFC’s fact sheet on the “Rights of Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools.” Charter schools require a separate application which is due on April 1.
  • If your child will need specialized transportation in middle school, the rules are the same as they were for elementary school. The critical thing to remember is that your child's IEP needs to identify any specialized transportation needs such as door-to-door services, special equipment, air conditioning, paraprofessional support on the bus or a shorter ride.  Start the process early by bringing to your annual review this year copies of relevant evaluations and have your doctor complete the DOE’s Request for Medical Accommodationsdetailing the need for the additional services. 
  • Two years ago, the DOE announced plans to reform in special education referred to now as “A Shared Path to Success.” Piloted initially in a small number of  schools, the reform was extended and this year most public schools are expected to meet the needs of considerably more students with disabilities than in the past.  This reform is a policy change, not a legal change, and all students with IEPs continue to be entitled to receive the services and classes on their IEPs.  For more information on your rights as a parent of a student with disabilities under the reform, see fact sheets from the ARISE Coalition here and two from Advocates for Children here and here.  

For more information, read carefully the DOE’s website on middle school enrollment.Check out the information and videos on on Insideschools' special eduation pageand see Insideschools' list of middle schools with noteworthy special education programs. If you need more assistance, call AFC’s Jill Chaifetz Helpline at (866) 427-6033.