City Defends Late Placements in Selective High Schools

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Facing a room of parents angry about revisions to the high school placement policies, an education official defended on Wednesday night the recent assignment of nearly 1,300 general and special education students to 71 top city schools.

Sandy Ferguson, of the office of enrollment, said the move was intended to “broaden opportunity for all students across the city.”

He added that the selective high schools -- those that require auditions or other special entrance requirements -- need to do a better job of filling their seats if they don’t want to be assigned students who didn’t audition.

But parents at the Citywide Council on High Schools meeting didn’t buy it. They argued that it was unfair to place students who didn’t audition to top arts and performing schools in an environment that may not suit them.

“It’s the kiss of death to put kids who don’t have a passion for those particular programs,” said Paola M.G. De Kock, a parent and member of CCHS. “You’re setting them – and the school -- up to fail.”

Under the city policy, schools were assigned unranked general and special education students if they didn’t fill at least 90 percent of their seats in the first round of the high school matching process. Among the 71 schools are Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Art and Design High School, and Beacon High School.

Most of the parents at the meeting came from Talent Unlimited High School. They said that at least one third of general and special education students who didn’t meet the school’s admissions standards were assigned to the musical theater and instrumental programs.

“If you didn’t apply for your job, would you get it?” parent Juanita Faulkner loudly questioned Ferguson. “We’re going to be receiving children who didn’t go through the process at all, while I’ve spent thousands of dollars on my daughter’s artistic development over the course of her life.”

Inside Schools has more on the students sent to Talent Unlimited.

Over a loud clamor, Ferguson responded that high schools should rank three times as many students as they think they’ll enroll in order to meet their seat targets.

“This is at the point where we don’t see enough kids ranked, we see those seats sitting empty,” he said. “We see kids not getting offers, or first or second offers, and there’s an opportunity to fill those seats.”

Why doesn’t the D.O.E. pick from the pool of kids who actually auditioned, instead of pulling students who may not have an interest or skill in the school’s field, parents asked. In the past, before 2011, the D.O.E. allowed schools to dip further into the pool of applicants who almost made it in.

Ferguson said that students are assigned based on state scores, and those with special needs must meet the school's selection criteria.

Parents were less critical Wednesday night of the city filling empty seats with special needs students to meet the system's special education mandate. Last year, the D.O.E. started requiring the city’s high schools to rank a certain number of students with disabilities during the admissions process.

While Ferguson did not predict any changes in the city’s method of matching students to high schools, parents said they hoped the dialogue would lead to revisions.