New law entitles disabled students to graduate with peers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill by Assemblyman James Skoufis that requires school districts to allow students with disabilities to attend graduation ceremonies with their classmates if they earn certain credentials but haven’t gotten a diploma yet.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, sponsored the bill to help children with disabilities who stay in high school longer than their peers but want to participate in graduations with them. Under the legislation, school districts must set policies to accommodate those students, as long as they have shown progress in their studies by earning a skills and achievement commencement credential or a career development and occupational studies commencement credential. The bill was dubbed “Zachary’s Law” in recognition of Washingtonville School District student Zachary Lerman, who attended graduation with his peers last year.

“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,” Zachary’s father, Steven, said in a press release on Thursday. “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.”

Both the Assembly and Senate unanimously passed the bill on June 21. Cuomo signed it on Wednesday.

“Graduating high school is meant to be a joyous and momentous occasion that recognizes the achievements of students and their classmates,” Skoufis said in a statement announcing the bill signing. “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.”

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