The Cape May County Technical School District has revised its admissions process after a review raised concerns about its consideration of disabled student applicants, the state Office of the Attorney General announced Tuesday.
In a settlement agreement with the office's Division of Civil Rights, the district must make changes such as notifying parents with specific reasons for rejecting an applicant and not asking applicants whether they are disabled.
Superintendent Nancy Hudanich was surprised by the announcement, saying the changes were voluntary and developed during discussions that began in 2011. She said the idea that the district was excluding disabled students is "misleading and inflammatory."
"That's not at all what we're about," she said.
She particularly disputed the statistics that the division said led to its review. According to the statement released Tuesday, the technical high school's percentage of students with disabilities was a little more than 1 percent in 2009 and just above 5 percent in 2010.
Meanwhile, the statewide average is 15 percent, and the county average is nearly 18 percent, according to the state.
Hudanich said she does not know where the division got those statistics. In the 2009-10 school year, she said, 118 students out of 691, or 17 percent, had special needs, which included shared-time students.
The division said there were concerns by parents, educators and advocates. Hudanich said the state kept those complainants anonymous.
Other changes the state listed include that the applicants be evaluated on a specific set of objective criteria, and that the admissions committee cannot review a disabled applicant's Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, as part of the admissions process.
Hudanich said all these changes were officially implemented in May.
"When educational opportunities are offered on a competitive basis, or through a selection process, it's important that all applicants be on equal footing, and that they be evaluated solely on their abilities - not their disabilities," acting Attorney General Hoffman said in Tuesday's statement.
The state noted the changes are voluntary, and the districted acknowledged no liability or wrongdoing. The district will train staff members in regard to the changes.
The school will provide statistics to the state for the next three school years, including the total number of applicants, total number of applicants with IEPs and total number of applicants with IEPs who are accepted.
"Through this settlement, the school has created a set of policies and practices that foster greater equality in the student admissions process at Cape May Technical High School," Division Director Craig T. Sashihara said in the statement. "This is an important step, and I commend the school district for its readiness to embrace change once the issue was brought to its attention."
The division said it is reviewing similar concerns about other districts throughout the state.
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