The Department of Education is overhauling the way it serves special education students with changes that will effect almost every student in the city. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
With the exception of Washington DC, New York City has the worst record in the country when it comes to integrating special needs students into mainstream classes.
Many of the 177,000 New York City special-needs students are effectively segregated into special classes or special schools, despite figures showing that students who stay in those classes have just a 5 percent chance of graduating.
"It's pretty much an academic death sentence," said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the Department of Education's chief academic officer.
By September, that's supposed to change. Almost every school will have to take in students with disabilities and put them in the same classrooms as the rest of the student body.
But at a City Council hearing this week, educators, advocates and parents said schools are not ready to make such a big change.
"Our principals, our general education, our special education teachers are not prepared," said Mona Davids with the NYC Parents Union. "General education parents have no clue what's happening. Special education parents have no clue what's happening."
Education officials defended the policy, saying there is no time to waste, noting a need for a "balance between pressure and support."
But the teachers and principals' unions say it's been all pressure, with not nearly enough support.
"There is still a lot out there that principals don't understand," said Randi Herman with the principals' union.
The DOE says educators are being trained.
"We spent a lot of money to hire additional special ed instructional coaches to work with the schools and work with the principals," said Polakow-Suransky. "And it's going to continue."
The policy has been tested in a 260-school pilot program since 2010. But council members and advocates say the city is now expanding it to all 1,700 schools before fully studying key factors, like behavior and discipline, of students in the pilot.
"The public really needs to know what happened in those 260 schools," said Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children of NY.
DOE officials say students were better integrated but admit attendance and test scores didn't improve.
All parties agree that the city has been failing special education students. Whether the system is ready for a whole-scale change remains to be seen.