Zachary’s Law Passed!
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Zachary’s Law is now in effect in New York State school districts. Legislated by Assemblyman James Skoufis and carried in the senate by Bill Larkin, it requires all school districts ensure that students with disabilities have the opportunity to take part in their high school graduation ceremonies if they’ve earned their Regents-approved Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential or Occupational Studies Commencement Credential but haven’t yet earned their high school diploma, which many special needs students take longer than the traditional four years to complete.
“Graduating high school is meant to be a joyous and momentous occasion that recognizes the achievements of students and their classmates,” Skoufis said. “Just because students with disabilities may not take a traditional path to completing their high school education doesn’t mean they should be deprived of celebrating a special day with friends and family and the people they’ve gone to school from K-12 with.”
The law is named for Zachary Lerman, a graduate of Washingtonville High School who currently attends the Bridges program at Orange County Community College. Zachary’s father Steve Lerman thanked everyone present for working as a team to get this law passed. “I never saw myself as a political advocate, but here I am,” he said. “This is a law born out of necessity.”
Janet Eckerson of the Orange County Mental Health Association said, “What the Lermans did is not just for Zachary but for all the other kids coming after him.”
Stacy Orzell, of the Autism Move-a-Thon of Orange County and the Mental Health Association 2016 Parent-Advocate of the Year, said, “One person does make a difference. And we have all worked together to make a difference for our children.”
Skoufis said, “Students with disabilities have enough barriers in their lives; they don’t need one more. For people without a child with special needs, this may seem like a small thing, but for people with kids with special needs it’s a huge thing to be able to participate in that special day with their peers.”
Students with disabilities have until they’re 21 to complete all coursework, and each school develops its own policy with regards to recognizing that these students may take a different route to completing their education.
“Last year,” Zachary’s dad said, “our son was able to walk alongside his friends and classmates thanks to Assemblyman Skoufis’ efforts in working with the Washingtonville school district. Our hope is that more students like Zachary are provided the opportunity to celebrate their hard-earned success.”
In October of this year, Skoufis was named Chairman of the Assembly’s Task Force on People with Disabilities. He is currently putting together an agenda for the 2018 legislative session that fights for equality and dignity for all.
Also present were outgoing Town of Blooming Grove Supervisor Bob Fromaget, Board of Education members Robin White and Jen Dellova, athletic director Gary Vyskocil, district superintendent Roy Reese, and high school principal Brian Connolly.
CAPTION: Zachary’s parents Steve and Randy Lerman, Assemblyman James Skoufis, Stacy Orzel of the Autism Move-a-Thon of Orange County, and Janet Eckerson of the Orange County Mental Health Association stood in front of the Washingtonville Central School District on Nov. 30 to celebrate Zachary’s Law taking effect. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)
Senator Bill Larkin sponsored the bill through the NY State Senate while Skoufis sponsored it through the Assembly.