Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D, Bergen/Passaic) has served as a primary sponsor of a bill that will serve developmentally disabled students by providing stability in special education programs. Among the students who will be served by the bill will be those with Autism. This week, the full Assembly passed the bill by an overwhelming margin of 73-3-2. Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D, Mercer/Middlesex) served as a Primary co-sponsor.
According to Benson, "Transition and change in routine are very difficult for children suffering with Autism or other developmental disabilities...Those who are shuffled from school-to-school are often prone to regression, which, in some cases, makes learning setbacks almost impossible to overcome.”
The bill also recognizes the right of the parent to have input when the Child Study Team develops the IEP and recognizes that the parents concerns would be considered when the program is designed and implemented. Of course, the requirement that parents be a partner in the process of developing the IEP has long ago been mandated by by federal law (PL.108-446), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and New Jersey’s Administrative Code for Special Education (N.J.A.C. 6a:14). Assembly bill 2739 will mandate that will the State Board of Education shall require ”consistency of the location, curriculum, and staffing in the provision of special education programs and services”.
Linda Greenstien (D, Mercer/Middlesex) and Steve Sweeny (D, Cumberland, Gloucester/ Middlesex) served as the primary sponsors in the Senate. The bill was prompted by the concept that changes in the location, style, and direct and related services may cause a student to lose the gains that he or she may have gained.
As Assemblywoman Wagner points out "Change is hard for any student at a young age, but doubly so when it is a student with special needs;……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."
One case that motivated Benson and Wagner to sponsor the bill was the plight of a nine year-old child with Autism who was transferred repeatedly to five different schools and programs within a five-year period, which stifled the student’s progress. In addition, the child was denied related services that would support his learning. Both “Autism New Jersey”, an advocacy group, and the New Jersey Education Association support the bill, which now awaits Senate approval.
The final language of the bill states, “The State Board of Education shall promulgate regulations to require school districts to develop a plan to establish stability in special education programming. The plan shall take into account the consistency of the location, curriculum, and staffing in the provision of special education programs and services”.
Benson and Wagner are determined to guarantee just that!
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law.