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 Article of Interest - Special Education

Special Ed Flunking
by Joe Williams, Daily News, October 6, 2002
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit

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 skills.


"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 not-for-profit legal group.


"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 study.


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, Mueller said.


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.'"


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