(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vincent Mazzeo, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt, Gabriela Mosquera and Dan Benson to allow students with disabilities to bring service animals onto school buses in New Jersey received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
“This legislation ensures that New Jersey aligns with what federal law prescribes,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “What’s more important, however, is our commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities can have the highest quality of life possible and access the same opportunities as their peers.”
The bill (A-3690) would expand state law to allow students with disabilities to board a school bus with a service animal. Current law only permits students with disabilities to enter classrooms and school grounds with service animals. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in services provided by state and local government entities.
“For certain students with disabilities, service animals are required for optimal learning and development,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “If a student needs a service animal in school and is allowed to have that, it is common sense to allow the student to bring the service animal onto the school bus as well.”
“When students have to be without the service animals that facilitate their everyday activity, they compromise their sense of independence and, in some cases, put their health at risk,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This legislation acknowledges that just as we would never ask a student to leave behind a pair of eyeglasses or an EpiPen that he or she needs, we should never expect a child who needs a service animal to go without it.”
“The needs of these students do not magically disappear when they board the school bus,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “It seems silly to allow a service animal in the classroom, but not the school bus. These students depend on service animals to make everyday tasks easier. There is no reason why service animals should not be allowed to accompany these children on the bus.”
“These animals are not pets. They serve a specific purpose and that is to assist children with special needs,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “These children have it especially tough. There is no need to make life harder for them by denying them the support and protection that these service animals provide, especially when these animals are already allowed in the classroom.”
The bill would permit a school official to inquire as to whether the service animal is required due to a disability and what task or work the animal has been trained to perform, unless the disability and the animal’s purpose are readily apparent. A school official may require: 1) certification from a veterinarian that the service animal is properly vaccinated and does not have a contagious disease that may harm students or staff and 2) documentation proving that the student has obtained any license the municipality in which he or she resides requires for the service animal.
The legislation would require the animal to be under a handler’s control via a leash, tether or other suitable means at all times.
The measure was approved 36-0 on Thursday by the Senate, and 73-0-0 by the Assembly in November.