Education, Motherhood, Special Needs
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Applying to High Schools with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)

Stuyvesant High School

An IEP can actually increase chances of your teen being accepted to the schools of her choice–to an extent

book_HS (2)

While we were learning about the NYC high school application process, our family had an additional consideration. Our daughter has an IEP. We toured the schools with a lens towards her needs: how well the school accommodates and integrates services like counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy and more.

With the NYC Board of Education’s move to integrate students with needs into the least restrictive environment (LRE) in the late 90s, some high schools now realize that they need to recruit for the very best students with IEPs.

This year, well-regarded schools like Beacon, Millennium NYC and Hunter Science made overtures to my daughter’s middle school to offer personalized tours to students with IEPs. It was nice to have the extra insight into these schools. I hope we see more of this in years to come.


It’s a numbers game and it makes sense. When you look at the number of schools in 2014 with unfilled IEP seats in Round 2, these schools are smart to increase the outreach for Round 1 this year. Those schools will hopefully attract the best and brightest students with IEPs in Round 1. Another benefit I imagine would be that these schools avoid scrambles later in the school year to fill those IEP seats.

How can you be sure your teen isn’t just fulfilling a quota a school may have to provide X number of seats for students with IEPs? Dig in and ask questions school by school. On tours, ask how students with IEPs are accommodated in the school. Separate classrooms? Co-teaching (one special ed and one general ed teacher team teaching)? Push in or pull out for services? What is the staffing like for the services your child has mandated?

There were a few discouraging moments along the way. In my experience (and my opinion), specialized high schools make no effort to encourage/accommodate kids with IEPs–and do not disguise that fact. I am not clear legally how these schools can seem to cherry pick for general education students only.

For example, my daughter wanted to apply to the visual arts program of a well-known “talent” high school. I spoke with the school’s Special Education Support Services (SETSS) teacher at the Citywide High School fair in October. He seemed dismissive to my questions about support services. The teacher shared that the school really didn’t offer IEP supports and said it would be pretty difficult for students with IEPs to succeed. Isn’t this teacher’s job to ensure these kids DO succeed? That school was crossed off of our list.

Work your contacts to speak with parents at the schools in which you’re interested. Everyone’s IEP is different, but you will get a sense of how well the school addresses needs in general.

Questions to ask:

  • How comfortable is your child in this school?
  • Is there an obvious differentiation of kids with IEPs vs General Education students?
  • Do the students know who has an IEP? Some students find the label/categorization stigmatizing.
  • Is your child able to keep up academically?
  • Co-teaching in the school?
  • Class size?
  • Have you felt the need to add tutoring for your teen to keep up?
  • Does the school provide academic support services to help students with IEPs?
  • How responsive is the school and their special ed team to your concerns and questions?
  • Now that your teen is at this school, was it the best match for him/her?
  • What other schools did you consider/rank when applying?


Article: A flawed process: Applying to HS for students with disabilities
Video: Touring Schools for Your Special Needs Child
Noteworthy special education: high schools
Denise Tilles

Denise is a Brooklyn-based working mom with one high-school bound daughter, Leigh, and an upcoming applicant, 6th grader, Honor. Denise and her husband, Douglas, are parents committed to making the NYC school system more inclusive for students of all abilities.



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