By a vote of 73-3-2, the General Assembly on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson and Connie Wagner to establish stability in special education programming to help students suffering from developmental disabilities such as autism.
“Transition and change in routine are very difficult for children suffering with Autism or other developmental disabilities,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Those who are shuffled from school-to-school are often prone to regression, which, in some cases, makes learning setbacks almost impossible to overcome. This situation is incredibly frustrating for parents and often times confusing and scary for their children. We can and must do better and hopefully this bill will see to it that we do just that.”
The bill (A-2739) directs the State Board of Education to create regulations requiring school districts to develop a plan to establish stability in special education programming. The plan must take into account the consistency of the location, curriculum, and staffing in the provision of special education programs and services.
The regulations must also require that when developing an individualized education program (IEP) with the parent or guardian of a student who is prone to regression due to frequent changes in location – such as students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – the IEP team shall consider, among other factors, the consistency of the location of services when determining in-district special education placements.
“Change is hard for any student at a young age, but doubly so when it is a student with special needs,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Families deserve to have a school system that is working with them and not against them. This bill will deliver critical stability to the students who need it most in order to become successful learners.”
Benson noted that the legislation was born out of meetings he had with advocates in the autism community, as well as a family from his legislative district whose 9-year old son suffers from severe disabilities including Autism and Tourette’s syndrome. After being placed in four different public schools over the course of five years, the child encountered serious setbacks in learning. In addition to being shuffled from school-to-school, the student was also denied enrollment in the extended school year program and other services that had previously been provided to him.
It took months of meeting with school district officials before the family was finally able to get their son placed in the proper programs, only to see him suffer extreme learning regression, which his teachers worried he would not be able to regain. This prompted the family to remove the child from the public school system and place him in a costly private school environment to stabilize his education.
The sponsors noted that Autism New Jersey and the NJEA have both expressed support for the bill.
The provisions of the bill would go into effect 90 days after being signed into law. The measure now awaits consideration by the Senate.