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(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John J. Burzichelli, L. Grace Spencer, Vincent Prieto, Paul D. Moriarty and Angel Fuentes to allow students with special needs to bring service animals to school has been approved by the Assembly.

The bill (A-1718) would allow a student classified as eligible for special education programs and services for autism or other developmental disability to bring a service animal in school buildings, including the classroom, and on school grounds. The bill does not require the school to provide the service animal.

“All students regardless of disability deserve the best educational tools available to prosper academically,” said Burzichelli (D- Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland). “Allowing a student with autism or other developmental disability to bring a service animal to school will enhance the learning process and help the student reach his or her full potential.”

“Service animals can be trained to be a calming influence for students with autism or other developmental disabilities by providing a connection to the familiar in unfamiliar surroundings,” Spencer (D-Essex and Union). “This is especially important in a school setting, where an environment conducive to learning is key for students to succeed.”

“The needs of children with autism or other developmental disabilities are not limited to the home,” said Prieto (D- Bergen and Hudson). “Their needs extend to the classroom where they are expected to learn. If bringing a service animal to school helps these students better navigate the learning process, there’s no reason to deny them that.”

Under the bill, a school official may inquire about the necessity of the service animal and the tasks the service animal will perform, if the information is not readily apparent.

A school official may require certification from a veterinarian that the service animal has been properly vaccinated, and documentation that a license has been obtained for the service animal, if one is required by the municipality where the student resides. The bill stipulates that the school is not responsible for the care or supervision of the service animal, but does require the school to make reasonable accommodations for its care and feeding.

“Every child deserves a fair shot at a solid education. Service animals have proven to be tremendous assets for children with disabilities, breaking down educational and social barriers,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “A service animal can help a child with a disability better learn and better socialize with other children in the classroom.”

“A child with a disability must work harder. A service animal helps ease the burden by providing a reassuring force that helps the child prosper academically and even socially,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Schools would not be obligated to provide the service animal, but simply allow them to accompany the child. Considering the benefits these animals can provide children with disabilities, it is well worth the effort.”

The bill was unanimously approved by the Assembly. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.