TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey legislators have passed a bill that adds school buses to the list of school locations in which students’ service animals are allowed.
State law specifies that a student with a disability, including autism, is permitted access for a service animal in school buildings. The new bill, A-3690, would add school buses to the previously specified classrooms and school grounds.
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate each passed the legislation in early February. As of press time, it was awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s approval.
"This legislation ensures that New Jersey aligns with what federal law prescribes," said Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, a sponsor of the bill. "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."
Another sponsor, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, added that "for certain students with disabilities, service animals are required for optimal learning and development. 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."
While the law may not have previously specified it, it appears that service animals have already been permitted on school buses in New Jersey. A state Department of Education bulletin on training requirements for school bus drivers and school bus aides says that “students classified with special needs have a right to bring their service dogs to school with them and also on the school bus.”
The bulletin explains that those rights are guaranteed by a number of federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The New Jersey Department of Education bulletin goes on to list what school bus drivers and aides should be instructed on before transporting a student with a service dog:
• Procedures for loading the bus for both the student and the dog;
• Safe riding positions for the dog and whether the dog should be restrained;
• Emergency procedures, including evacuation of both the student and the dog, as well as instruction in basic commands the dog is trained to follow should the student be unable to communicate those commands;
• Dog behavior management; and
• If the dog is trained to signal an alert if the child experiences a problem (e.g., impending seizure, difficulty breathing), instruction in how to recognize that alert and how to respond to assist the student.