Help your child choose the right high school based on their needs. Photo: Scott Webb on Unsplash
  1. What makes your program for students with disabilities unique? 

    Optimal answer:
    1. You want to hear something that is specific to students with disabilities, not something they do for all kids. Ie  Hopefully there is some data to share.
    2. Are they proud of what they are doing? (because simply being compliant with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) should not impress anyone). They should show pride in their own excellence, things like a new robotics lab or a new class unique to the city.
  1. How long has the school been providing _____________? fill in the blank of the services that you are worried about ie. (DO NOT SAY “do you offer”)
    1. Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) services in core subjects (Math, Sci, Soc St, ELA)
    2. ICT in LOTE (Language Other Than English: Spanish, French, Mandarin, etc.)
    3. ICT or Special Class in CTE
    4. Special Class in any subject, if so, which subjects 
    5. Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) for students who also have ICT or Special Class
    6. ICT in AP Classes (which classes and how do students qualify for AP classes- how transparent is that process?)

Optimal answer:

Don’t let them say “We offer ____” because all schools should provide whatever is on your child’s IEP. Make them answer your question.

The answer parents should want to hear is the truth of how long they have been providing something or if they haven’t been providing it. It allows you to gauge their expertise. You can also ask why they’ve never done something that you think you will want for your child. For example, you might hear that they have never offered something because their students have never needed it, although I’d find that hard to believe. For example, it’s wrong to say that students with ICT never needed SETSS or students don’t need ICT in LOTE. They should tell you the truth. It’s hard to fund these in NYC public schools and they should tell you how they work around that. Honest answers help you select a partner in educating your child.

  1. When a student needs help but has been unwilling to receive support or does not recognize that they need support, how have you worked on this in the past?

    Optimal answer:
    This is a tough question. Alternatively, you can ask about school refusal this way. Parents will want to hear something about how a school takes this to be a part of the student’s disability and a responsibility of the school so that the student can make appropriate progress. You would like to hear of a protocol or method they use or their approach in these matters and their outcomes so far, because this does happen with some students. The last thing you want to hear is that they are looking at grade levels to see if the student is “okay,” especially if the student has been in the habit of getting support from outside providers or parents to stay afloat in school. You want to hear about creative solutions they’ve come up with.

  2. What kind of post-secondary readiness activities have you been providing, specifically for students with disabilities? When andhow? How is it different from what you are providing to all students?

    Optimal answer:

Keep in mind that all high schools have conversations, events and programs about the future (trades, college prep) for all of their students but due to a student’s disability, a student with an IEP may not find those programs accessible (anxiety, organization, initiation, etc.). Therefore, to fulfill their commitment to a student with an IEP, a school should be ensuring that students are getting the services that they need, which includes making sure the student participates in future-readiness activities available to all students as long as they need it and also receive whatever else that is needed. These services are called “transition services/activities” and all students with IEP’s are entitled to them to help them prepare for the future. They are not scheduled like counseling, speech or OT and hence they are often just not done very well.

  1. Have all the teachers been using the same digital platform for classroom management and have they been using all the features properly and updating all grades frequently? How frequently and where?

    Optimal answer:
    Many students with disabilities critically depend on something like Google Classroom to be able to access their assignment materials, info and deadlines. It even helps them know that they submitted their work because they might forget they did that. It can be essential for students with ADHD, ASD and even more vital for students with learning disabilities. When schools use multiple digital platforms, this is hard on students with disabilities, and when teachers use them incorrectly or update things late, these tools can become very frustrating for them. Hence, very detailed questions about a service provided to all students is necessary.

  2. How have you been supporting students in participating in their IEP meetings?

    Optimal answer:
    Please know that many high schools do nothing beyond giving an invitation and provide a surprise escort to the meeting. Research shows that students who lead their own IEP meetings develop stronger self-determination skills and acquire greater knowledge about post-secondary transition, but research also shows that students speak as little as 3% in their IEP meetings, with their teachers talking as much as 51%. Schools who recognize the importance of this will have figured out how to teach their students to participate. Find out how they have been doing this until now and how they measure their success. New York State requires schools to log student attendance at IEP meetings, but schools are not graded on how much they prepared the student, how much the student participated, and how satisfied the student was with the process.

  3. Who has been doing the scheduling of programs for students with disabilities at the school?

    Optimal answer:

First you want to hear that there is a special education or Instructional Support Services (ISS) assistant principal, because you want a person of high authority overseeing special education delivery. You want that person to be a special education teacher by training and you want that person to have scheduling authority over your child. Not only are they the best to consider the compliance mandates, but they will consider the individualized needs such as physical accessibility, distance between classes, teacher experience level, or class availability at particular times to better suit student needs, interests, or sensitivities. This is more important than anyone could possibly imagine. At many colleges, students with disabilities ask for registration priority as an accommodation for this very reason.

  1. How have you been identifying students who are not making appropriate progress based on their unique strengths and what has been the protocol for action?

    Optimal answer:
    Keeping in mind that the law is not about getting your child to pass and graduate but rather it’s about your child making appropriate progress, we want the school to notice when your child is not making “appropriate progress based on their unique strengths,” and while that could mean a different threshold for everyone, they should have at least some threshold for kids with IEP’s. Do they have an auto-flag that is raised when the student goes below an 80? After three overdue assignments in a row? What is the protocol? Is there an immediate teacher-student meeting? You want to know how this differs for the student with an IEP because if the problem is due to disability, and it usually is, actions should be taken to find a solution.

  2. What is the average and range of the GPA for students with disabilities at your school by the end of 11th grade?

Optimal answer: 

Obviously, you want this to be as high as possible. Parents need to know that getting into college is different from when they were applying. Many CUNY and SUNY four-year colleges have GPA admissions averages and ranges in the 90s with just a few in the high 80s and just a few in the low 80s. The averages for private colleges may be different, but public high schools need to pay attention to what is happening at public colleges. There are plenty of schools that are just looking to graduate your children and only care about getting them on “grade-level,” which may not be enough to support them in fulfilling their post-secondary goals of getting to a desired four-year college, which actually becomes a part of their high school IEP.

  1. What type of training has your staff had in the area of _______________ ? Fill in the blank with the subject that is most important to you, i.e.
    1. Autism
    2. Executive Functioning 
    3. Evidence-Based Explicit Sequential and Multimodal Reading Instruction for Dyslexia 
    4. Evidence-Based Explicit Sequential and Multimodal Writing Instruction for Written Expression Disorder and Dyslexia 
    5. Integrated Co-Teaching (that often requires good coaching and/or training) and how much co-planning time is formally embedded into their schedule per week?
    6. Special Education Teachers licensed in the subject matter they teach (they don’t have licensed general education co-teachers, they are alone)

Optimal answer:
This is a good time to know how many IEP related staff members they have at the school. You can look at their budgets to find out too. You want to hear about formal training their staff HAVE received and how many of them have been provided this training.  When we say formal training, there are names to the formal training: Social Thinking, PEERS, Orton Gillingham, The Writing Revolution, SRSD, etc. There are trainings done by New York City Public Schools as well. Your child’s IEP may require that someone is trained or certified in a particular type of method. You’ll want to know what kind of staff have been trained. Only therapists? Are they on your staff? (because therapists are often not on staff at small schools and there are new people every year). When were they trained? How many? Do not accept a vague statement such as “our people have been trained.”

You may have had trouble getting answers to your special education questions or have heard discriminatory messages in emails or open houses. This might prevent you from making decisions confidently. You can always send your complaints and requests to the Central Special Education Office email address, known as the Special Education Inbox, at  It’s nice to forward evidence of the discriminatory message (email or recording), but it’s not necessary. You can also call P311, the special education complaint line at 718-935-2007, and do your best to get a complaint number because sometimes the person answering the phone does not fully understand that your problem was discriminatory enough to deserve a complaint number. It’s best practice to call P311 first and then send your complaint number to the Special Education Inbox while writing what happened in greater detail to them.  

Additionally, you can look for the Administrator of Special Education (ASE) for that particular school that is not responding to you or saying something discriminatory during the admissions process. I would suggest that you write to that ASE after getting the complaint number. The number makes it so that someone must respond to you. You can email the ASE when you email the Special Education Inbox. Do as much as you can handle and know that you are a great advocate for going this far. You are probably helping another child as you complain for your own. 

Additionally, you can use this template to voice your complaints and concerns and ask for a deadline extension for the High School Admissions application.

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1 Comment

  1. This is a very high level, thoughtful and comprehensive set of questions that serve, most importantly, to educate parents about what to look for. I like the nuanced answers you give, for ex, about what kinds of training what kinds of staff have had, and if they’ve been certified in it. EXCELLENT!

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