Legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to ensure that students with disabilities in New Jersey have an equal opportunity to participate in physical education programs was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
"Every student deserves the chance to compete at the most competitive level possible," said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). "With the Special Olympics set to kick-off in Mercer County this week we're reminded that the only limitations we face are the ones we impose on ourselves."
Specifically, the bill (A-3152) would require each school district in New Jersey to:
- ensure that a student with a disability has an equal opportunity to participate in existing classroom activities that involve physical activity; and try out for and, if selected, participate in athletic programs in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student ; and
- ensure the provision of reasonable modifications or aids or services necessary to provide a student with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in physical education programs, existing classroom activities that involve physical activity, and athletic programs in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student.
"Competition breeds success," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Making sure students are competing at the highest level appropriate for them will hopefully inspire them to reach their true potential."
"Our schools should be an environment where children are taught that the sky is the limit," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Creating unnecessary physical barriers for them can, in turn, create mental barriers as well. We need to tear these barriers down, not build them up."
An exception to these requirements may be made when the inclusion of a student with a disability presents an objective health or safety risk to the student or to others, based on an individualized assessment of the student; or fundamentally alters the nature of the physical education program or athletic program in accordance with the "Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
In the event of an exception, a school district, in consultation with students, parents, community members, and advocacy groups, shall make reasonable efforts to provide a student with a disability the opportunity to participate in existing adapted or unified sports programs facilitated by community organizations, such as the Special Olympics New Jersey.
A school district may develop such programs on a school, district, regional, or county basis. The provision of an adapted program or a unified sports program for a student with a disability shall not mitigate the responsibility of the school district to provide a student with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in programs and activities.
Additionally, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), in consultation with Special Olympics New Jersey and any other adapted sports organizations, may establish interscholastic athletic programs for student-athletes with intellectual or developmental disabilities who are participating in a unified sports program of athletics developed by a school district. The NJSIAA may also require any coach of a unified sports program of athletics to receive training specific to that program.
If enacted into law, the provisions of the bill would go into effect with the 2015-2016 school year.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.