Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Shavonda Sumter, Marlene Caride, Angela McKnight, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Eliana Pintor Marin and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to ensure that all teachers in New Jersey are familiar with the needs of students with disabilities gained final legislative approval Monday in the General Assembly. It now heads to the governor's desk.
"Students learn best in inclusive environments in which they feel respected and encouraged to reach their full potential," said Benson (D-Middlesex/Morris). "Teachers who understand and are sensitive to the challenges students with disabilities face can provide the proper accommodations, combat stigma and provide resources to ensure a welcoming atmosphere."
The bill (A-2786) would require the curriculum for prospective teachers to include the equivalent of six credits of instruction or clinical experience in special education. The measure also would require teachers who wish to instruct students with disabilities to complete coursework that covers autism spectrum disorder.
"New Jersey has the highest prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in the nation, and it's important that schools are equipped to meet the needs of children with autism and related disorders," said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Unfortunately, many teachers who want to help their students with autism thrive have not received training on the intellectual, social and behavioral difficulties that come with this disorder. Requiring this training will prepare teachers to work more efficiently with parents and other school faculty and staff in order to support their students."
"Children with special needs may require special attention and accommodations, but their disabilities never should preclude them from receiving a high-quality education," said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic), chair of the Assembly Education Committee. "Teachers who are trained in the proper way to work with students who have disabilities will be better able to foster the kind of positive learning environment every child in New Jersey deserves."
"Teachers in New Jersey want to provide their students with the best possible classroom experience," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "Having a better understanding of the challenges students with disabilities often face and knowing how to help students overcome those challenges will allow all educators in our state to achieve that goal."
"In the state with the highest prevalence of autism in the country, it's more likely than not that an educator will encounter a student who has autism spectrum disorder or another developmental disability," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. "All teachers should be prepared to meet the unique needs of these children."
"Every student has the right to receive a free and appropriate education," said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). "Making special education coursework a standard part of the curriculum will ensure that teachers in New Jersey are better equipped to help all of their students learn."
"Regardless of whether an educator teaches in a special education classroom, he or she will at some point have the responsibility of working with a child who has special needs," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation will help ensure that New Jersey's children can learn in environments in which they feel understood and respected."
The measure gained unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature.