(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Mila Jasey, Cleopatra Tucker and Benjie Wimberly to prevent accidental mistreatment of students with special needs by creating a training program for school bus drivers and aides continues to advance in the legislature. The Senate Education Committee approved the measure on Thursday and now awaits consideration from the full Senate.
"Children with special needs require specialized attention and care. Bus drivers and aides should be aware of behaviors associated with certain disabilities, and know how to effectively deal with them so to avoid any confusion and accidental mistreatment of these students," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "It makes their job easier and ensures that these students are being treated with the respect they deserve."
The bill (A-1029) would require the Commissioner of Education to develop a training program for school bus drivers and school bus aides on interacting with students with special needs. The training program would include appropriate behavior management, effective communication, the use and operation of adaptive equipment, and understanding behavior that may be related to specific disabilities.
"Knowing how to operate a school bus and knowing traffic laws is not enough," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "These bus drivers and aides are responsible for these children and not just for getting them to school safely, but for providing for their well-being while they are on the bus. Teaching them about the challenges faced by children with special needs will help ensure the safety of these students."
Once the training program is made available, boards of education and school bus contractors that provide student transportation services under contract with boards of education would be required to administer the training program to all school bus drivers and school bus aides that they employ.
"While these students are on that bus, they are the responsibility of these drivers and aides," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "These students are especially vulnerable. It makes sense to educate these employees on how to recognize behaviors associated with certain disabilities so they can respond appropriately. It is in their best interest and the best interest of these students."
Under the bill, an employer must require that a school bus driver or school bus aide file a certification with the employer that the individual has completed the training program. The employer would have to retain a copy of the certification for the duration of the individual's employment.
Lastly, the bill would require that the Commissioner of Education develop a student information card that contains information that should be readily available to school bus drivers and school bus aides for the purpose of promoting proper interaction with a student with special needs. The student information card would be completed by the parent or guardian of a student with an individualized education plan when said plan is developed or amended. Upon receiving consent from a student's parent or guardian, the school district would provide the completed student information card to the school bus driver and school bus aide assigned to the student's bus route.
"By tailoring the transportation protocol to a student's specific needs, we can make sure they are receiving the individualized attention they need from those entrusted with their care," said Tucker (D-Essex). "From a policy perspective this is a wise move."
"The commute to and from school can present a number of obstacles and challenges, depending on a student's particular needs" said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This will help ensure, first and foremost, that the student is being looked out for, while also helping drivers and aides do their jobs with less worry or concern."
The bill was approved by the full Assembly, 77-0, on Dec. 15.