New York City is looking to place nearly all but the most severely limited special education students into mainstream schools by fall 2011, a shift made by many school districts years ago.

The move could affect as many as 177,000 students currently enrolled in special education in the nation’s largest school district. Beginning this fall, district officials say principals at hundreds of schools will be expected to enroll students with disabilities rather than direct them to segregated facilities.

Critics say the push toward mainstream schools could tax already strained schools and administrators who are ill-prepared to deal with the special needs these students present. And, they say the change could make it harder for parents to navigate an already complex system and ensure their children secure an appropriate placement.

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But city officials say the shift is long overdue, after trying unsuccessfully to move away from specialized schools in 2003. They insist cost is not a factor in the change, but rather that it’s an effort to improve the quality of education for students with disabilities, the vast majority of whom now leave school without a regular diploma, reports The New York Times. To read more click here.