There are more students with special needs than ever attending Brooklyn's highly sought-after Christa McAuliffe middle school, but poor outreach has left one-third of the available seats unfilled.

The empty seats will not be filled this year, Education Department officials said.

The school let several general education teachers go in preparation for the creation of two Integrated Co-Teaching classes, in which general and special education students learn side by side with two teachers, one of whom is licensed to teach special education students. There were only enough special ed students to create one of the ICT classes. Nonetheless, the school is not offering Spanish to 6th graders this year and some art classes have been cut, parents said.

The problem was not a lack of interest among families of children with disabilities. Students applying to Christa McAuliffe, also known as IS 187, must take the OLSAT exam, which was administered in December. But parents were not informed of the special needs enrollment option until January. As a result, the school had fewer applications from special education students than the 25-30 seats that the DOE targeted. It got 4,000 applications for just 300 general education seats in 2010.

Parents urged the DOE last year to re-open the application process, but the department refused.

Other parents were roiled by the Education Department's decision to allow special needs students with lower test scores entrance to the all-gifted Borough Park school.

The change was part of a reform effort by the DOE to provide educational opportunities for special needs children by allowing them to learn alongside their general education peers. At most top schools, however, special needs students were required to meet the same testing benchmarks as their peers. The citywide gifted and talented schools were exempt for the special education requirements. IS 187 is a gifted and talented school, but it is open only to residents of District 20 in Brooklyn.

"I am frustrated that it went like this," said one IS 187 parent, who asked to remain anonymous. "It was already controversial to bring in the special kids in. Now to have unfilled seats makes it harder to justify the change."

DOE officials said they hoped all the seats for special education students (who by law must have an Individualized Education Program, or IEP) would be filled next year.

"We're thrilled that IS 187 has admitted more students with IEPs than they have historically," said DOE spokeswoman Deidrea Miller. "We hope that more district 20 families of students with IEPs will apply to the school next year now that they know IS 187 is a middle school choice option available to them."