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Federal civil rights office OKs DOE's high school admissions rules

When I reported last week about the total review of special education that is set to start soon at the Department of Education, I noted that a complaint was pending with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights against the DOE’s policies about admission to its new small high schools.

In fact, the civil rights office actually issued a decision on the complaint that same day. Based on an interview with the parent leader who filed the complaint and data provided by the DOE, OCR determined that it is not possible to conclude that the DOE excludes students who require special education services or English language instruction from its new small high schools.

The decision comes two and a half years after David Bloomfield, a past president of the Citywide Council on High Schools, filed a complaint alleging that the DOE’s policy allowing small schools to exclude at their start some students with special needs violated those students’ civil rights.

Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children of New York told me last week that OCR generally rules on complaints quickly. But the ruling itself suggests a reason for the delay: In its decision, OCR cited DOE data that showed that after three years, small schools enroll a higher proportion of students with special needs than other high schools.

In a statement, Bloomfield said the longitudinal data reflect a victory for advocates for students with special needs:

While disappointed in this result, I believe we were successful in prodding the NYCDOE to provide greater educational access to special needs students and English language learners. The almost 3 year process of OCR deliberations clearly allowed the NYCDOE to improve its record of high school admissions, so I feel we have made our point.

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