NYC students set to ‘age out’ of school may stay an extra year

A student wearing headphones works on a laptop computer during a special education classroom exercise.
NYC students turning 21 will be allowed to return to their schools next year. Above, a student works on a laptop computer during a special education classroom exercise. (Nathan W. Armes for Chalkbeat)

New York City students who are turning 21 this school year, and who would otherwise age out of the school system, will be allowed to stay for an additional year, city education department officials said Thursday.

The move acknowledges the widespread disruption the pandemic has caused and will likely benefit hundreds of students, including those with disabilities, new arrivals to the country, and those who have struggled to accumulate enough credits to graduate. 

“We are committed to providing our older students with multiple pathways to graduate and prepare for their next steps, and any student who may be aging out this year can attend our Summer Rising program and continue their education into the 2021-22 school year,” said Sarah Casasnovas, a city education department spokesperson.

The decision marks the second year in a row 21-year-old students will be allowed to stay for an additional year and comes just days after the state’s education department issued guidance “strongly encouraging” districts to give students additional time. Advocates also pushed for the city and state officials to make the change, arguing that allowing students to age out after a disrupted year of education would harm some of the city’s most vulnerable students.  

Over 400 students who turned 21 last school year returned for an extra year, department officials said. It’s unclear how many students may be eligible this year.

The change may come as a relief to students with more complex disabilities, many of whom have struggled with limited access to in-person learning during the pandemic, and who may stay enrolled in public schools until age 21. Those students are also entitled to services designed to help them transition into jobs or other programs, efforts that have been disrupted this past year.

The move may also benefit students at alternative high schools who are far behind in credits. Some of those students have taken on jobs to help support their families during the pandemic or have otherwise become disengaged and may be able to earn enough credits to graduate given an additional year.

Still, questions remain about whether every student will be eligible. Some students with disabilities whose needs cannot be met in public programs are placed by the city in state-approved private schools. City officials did not immediately say whether those students would be allowed to stay an additional year. Last year, city officials declined to pay for those students to stay enrolled for an extra year.

“We’re very pleased to hear that the DOE [Department of Education] plans to allow students over 21 to return to school, but need clarification on whether the DOE will fund the continued enrollment of students with disabilities placed by the DOE in specialized non-public schools,”  said Ashley Grant, the director of postsecondary readiness at Advocates for Children. “The DOE left out these students this past year.”

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