CHESTER – Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) announced that legislation he authored to require local school districts ensure that students with disabilities have the opportunity to take part in their high school graduation ceremonies has been signed into law.
Named Zachary’s Law, Skoufis developed the legislation after discovering that Zachary Lerman and many students with disabilities faced needless barriers leading up to their graduation ceremony, oftentimes preventing them from participating.
“Graduating high school is meant to be a joyous and momentous occasion that recognizes the achievements of students and their classmates,” said Skoufis. “Just because students with disabilities may not take a traditional path to completing their high school education, it doesn’t mean they should be deprived of celebrating a special day with friends and family.”
New York allows students to remain in high school until they are 21 years old, acknowledging the fact that many students with disabilities may require more time to complete their education. Students with disabilities may also earn a Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential or an Occupational Studies Commencement Credential to signify that they are making progress in their studies.
Until now, however, many school districts didn’t allow students with disabilities to walk across the stage with their fellow classmates and friends unless they had earned a diploma and were departing high school, meaning that these students with disabilities were forced to attend a graduation ceremony with strangers a number of years later.
Skoufis’ law requires districts to establish a policy for students with disabilities to participate in graduation so long as they’ve earned one of the aforementioned commencement credentials. By recognizing that these students may take a different route to completing their education, the bill ensures that they, too, can celebrate their achievement with classmates they spent 12 years in school with.
“Last year, our son Zachary was able to walk alongside his friends and classmates thanks to Assemblyman Skoufis’ efforts in working with the Washingtonville school district,” said Steven Lerman. “Our hope is that more students like Zachary are provided the opportunity to celebrate their hard-earned success. Thanks to this legislation and Assemblyman Skoufis, our hope has become a reality.”
“Assemblyman Skoufis has proven time and time again that he is an advocate for individuals with disabilities of all ages,” said Stacey Orzell, consultant for Autism Move-A-Thon of Orange County. “This legislation will help ensure that students with disabilities are not forgotten and that they’re afforded the same rights as their peers.”
In October of this year, Skoufis was named Chairman of the Assembly’s Task Force on People with Disabilities. He is currently creating an agenda for the 2018 legislative session that fights for equality and dignity for all.