Students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the same high school programs that are made available to nondisabled students. In Philadelphia, an agreement that arose out of a class action suit, widely known as the LeGare Consent Decree, required, among other things, that the School District of Philadelphia modify its high school selection to ensure that students with disabilities are not precluded from attending selective and highly desirable high schools due to disability-related characteristics and issues that prevent such students from meeting all of the admission criteria for such schools. What this means is the high school application/admission process is now more inclusive to special education students allowing for admission to the city’s top-performing high schools and magnet schools.
In general, school districts are required to provide to students with disabilities and their families: 1) timely information and guidance concerning the full range of high schools and high school programs that are available within the District; 2) the procedures for obtaining admission to the programs; and 3) the nature of accommodations and supports made available within those schools for students with disabilities.
According to the LeGare Consent Decree, the high school selection is to begin a year prior to high school admission with a timely multi-disciplinary evaluation (“MDE”) that explores all areas of a student’s academic, social, and emotional needs and development of an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) in anticipation of the transition to high school. Upon completion of the evaluation, the MDE team should meet well before the deadline for any applications to schools in which the student is seeking admission in order to assist the student and family to consider a range of possible schools and to identify the types of accommodations and supports the student may require to fully participate in those schools. If the team believes that a particular high school or program is the only appropriate setting for a particular student, the team has the duty to recommend that the student be placed there. The MDE report will form the basis for the student’s first year in high school.
There are procedural safeguards in place for those students who are not offered admission to a specific high school program. Under the Legare Decree, if a student with a disability is rejected from any program for any reason other than racial balance or available space, s/he has the right to an impartial review of that decision.
The LeGare Consent Decree imposes obligations upon the School District of Philadelphia to ensure that parents are given thoughtful guidance to select a high school program that will be appropriate for their child with special needs. Parents living within the District of Philadelphia should keep these points in mind as they begin navigating the high school application process.