by Joe Williams, Daily News, October 6, 2002
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As a 19-year-old autistic student at Park West High School in
Manhattan, Everett Ball so impressed his
teachers by doing algebra and
piecing together puzzles that they
decided he was ready for the real world.
Ball, who legally could have stayed in school until he
was 21, landed on the graduation
list last spring.
But the Stuyvesant Town student couldn't read
beyond a second-grade level, was
incapable of riding a subway alone
and had never learned basic job
"He would have come out of school with no
skills and no plans except for a
life of Medicare checks," said his
grandmother, Vivian Smith, who takes
care of him.
A disturbing 40% of the city's 9,500 disabled
students leave school without
training to help them adjust to the
adult world, according to a new
study by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a
"These are kids that want to work and have real
lives after school ends and they are
kids who could be saved," said
Roberta Mueller, who coordinated the
The report found there's almost no
communication between the city
Education Department and government
agencies that offer crucial training
in real world skills.
Students could pick up everyday knowledge such
as how to ride the subway, navigate
a job interview or use a credit
card. But students and their
families often are not told help is available. That primarily
hurts special education
students in traditional high schools, the
soon-to-be-released report says.
"Everyone agrees the system is broken, but no
one is taking any interest in fixing
it," said Hazel Adams of the Center
for Independence of
the Disabled in New York.
Schools often want to boot out special
education students because they
aren't generally good test takers at a
time when principals are being
judged increasingly on test scores, Mueller said. The
study's authors hope to
meet with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to close the
decades-old communication gap that keeps students
from getting training,
Klein's office would not comment on the report
because no one there had read it
yet, a spokesman said.
With Adams' assistance, Ball and his
grandmother fought the system,
eventually enrolling him in a vocational
program this year that would
have been closed to him if he had graduated.
But others were not as lucky.
Emil Zerella, 18, graduated from John Adams
High School in Queens last year and
has had trouble finding a job with
his limited skills. His mother,
Donna Zerella, said he had been in special education because
he suffers from attention
deficit disorder and hyperactivity.
"How can you graduate someone like that?"
Zerella said. "They told me, 'He's a
good kid, he comes every day and
gives us everything he has, but he
just doesn't have much to give.'"