Trenton – The Senate today approved a bill authored by Senator Dawn Addiego and Senate President Steve Sweeney that would help protect students with disabilities from losing out on special education services because of the coronavirus crisis by temporarily extending the timetable for those who could exceed the age eligibility.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students with developmental and intellectual disabilities have not been able to receive the full breadth of services they need to transition into adult disability services,” said Senator Addiego (D-Atlantic/Burlington/Camden). “They might have missed an entire year of community programs or other key educational and skill-based training that is pivotal to their development. This bill will temporarily extend the age deadline so they can make up for time lost to the crisis.”
The bill, S-3434, would require boards of education to extend the educational and related services the students are already entitled to in the 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23 school years, protecting them from being “aged out” of eligibility when they turn 21.
“Every student deserves a fair and equitable opportunity to a quality education, including young people with disabilities,” Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “They are experiencing real hardships because of the crisis conditions that make it hard for them to participate in the services and activities that will enable them to realize their potential. These educational programs are key to their quality of life.”
Schools are now required to provide students with disabilities an “appropriate public education” from age three to 21 in accordance with an “individualized education program” that addresses their needs.
If a student turns 21 during the school year, he or she is entitled to finish the year. But, on June 30 of the student’s final school year, the student is no longer eligible for the educational services in a process commonly referred to as “aging out.”
This bill would extend the age of eligibility to students who reach the age of 21 during the 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23 school years to the 2021-22, 2022-23, 2023-24 school years, respectively. Unless otherwise provided in the student’s IEP, he or she would not be eligible to receive these services beyond the year in which they reach the age of 22.
“We thank Senate President Sweeney and Senator Addiego for recognizing the tremendous challenges students receiving special education services have experienced over the past year,” said Tom Baffuto, the Arc of New Jersey’s Executive Director. “The hands-on approach provided in a classroom doesn’t easily translate into a virtual world for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and so we must allow these students to remain in school past the age of 21 to catch up on any learning loss that may have occurred because of COVID. Students receiving special education services who are scheduled to age out this year and next year, deserve more time to make up for the services, therapies and education that they lost out on.”
The Senate approved the bill with a vote of 37-0.