Burzichelli, Zwicker Bills Protecting Students with Disabilities, Helping Car Services Who Drive Disabled Persons Clears Legislative Panel

(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel approved on Monday legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli and Andrew Zwicker strengthening protections for students with disabilities and relieving the burden of costs of motor vehicle registrations for drivers of disabled persons.

The first bill (A-501), sponsored by Burzichelli and Zwicker, establishes certain requirements for use of physical restraint on students with disabilities in school districts and approved private schools for students with disabilities. The bill also applies to educational services commissions. 

"The civil rights and the humane treatment of students must be upheld in these circumstances," said Burzichelli (D-Salem, Cumberland, Gloucester). "Guidelines are necessary to have in place under the law to ensure the safety and proper care for our students with disabilities in our schools."

"Improper and excessive restraint of any student is inexcusable," said Zwicker (D- Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). "Students with disabilities require special care and attention for their specific developmental needs. Protocols are necessary to ensure that educators and administrators are following the proper safeguards when it comes to dealing with students with disabilities."

According to the Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection, during the 2013-14 school year, students with disabilities were subjected to mechanical and physical restraint and seclusion at rates that far exceeded those of other students. The existence of this disparity raises a question as to whether school districts are imposing restraint or seclusion in discriminatory ways. 

The bill would help to ensure that:

  • Physical restraint is used only in an emergency in which a student is exhibiting behavior that places the student or others in immediate physical danger;
  • A student not restrained in the prone position unless a physician authorizes, in writing, the use of this restraint technique;
  • Staff members who are involved in the restraint of a student receive training in safe techniques for physical restraint by an entity approved by the board of education. This training must be updated at least annually; and
  • The parent or guardian of a student is immediately notified by telephone or through some means of electronic communication when physical restraint has been used on the student. A full written report of the incident must be provided to the parent or guardian within 48 hours of the occurrence of the incident.

Another bill (A-5220), sponsored by Burzichelli, exempts motor vehicle that provide service to persons with developmental disabilities from motor vehicle registration fees. 

"Many organizations which provide support to persons with developmental disabilities often struggle financially due to mounting costs of providing this invaluable service to residents," said Burzichelli. "Paying motor vehicle registration fees may be nominal to an individual but to an organization, these fees can add up if you have a fleet of vehicles. This legislation provides relief for organizations who need it and, due to the work they do, deserve the consideration."

A-5220 was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and A-501 was released by the Assembly Health Committee. Both will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.