CAPITAL DISTRICT Jerry Clark, 17, had pulled some pranks. He fell asleep in class on more than one occasion. He broke the school dress code by wearing slippers to school. Eventually, administration at Voorheesville High School had had enough and he was suspended for six weeks. A short time later on April 27, 2010, he hung himself.
Fast forward to Friday, June 22, and his family was waiting eagerly for the state legislature to wrap up its last day of session. In particular, they were waiting on the status of a bill they held dear to their hearts; a bill that they believe could have saved Jerry’s life had it existed two years and two months ago.
“If we had known we could have gone to the committee on special education (for an evaluation), we might have been able to save our grandson. We believe he would still be alive if we were given that information,” said Mary Clark, Jerry’s grandmother.
Clark has a home office set up in her living room. There, she’s spent countless hours reliving her family’s tragedy while working with Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Democrat representing the 20th District on Long Island, and Sen. John Flanagan, a Republican from the 2nd District in Smithtown, on a bill that would require school districts to provide information to parents regarding access to special education services upon enrollment.
Currently, a law exists that states a referral for special education evaluation can be made by a parent, school district employee, licensed physician or others “formally involved in the student’s education and care.” But, Weisenberg said many parents are unaware of those rights.
After hearing the Clarks’ story, Weisenberg said it appeared to him that the school system had failed them and Jerry — in a big way — and he wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.