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Turner-Ruiz Bill to Protect Children on School Buses Clears Senate

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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz requiring a minimum of one school bus aide for every 15 special needs students on a school bus cleared the full Senate today.

“The school bus should be one of the safest places for our children, but without proper supervision, some children are acting out in the worst way possible,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “School bus assaults are occurring at a more frequent rate, and we need to put an end to them now.  It is unconscionable that our young girls are being sexually assaulted and preschoolers are being physically attacked on the bus ride home from school.”

“When a parent puts their child on a bus, they should go away with the comfort of knowing their child is safe,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “One case is too many, and we have heard numerous stories of students who were the victims of attacks on buses and that is just inexcusable, especially when we have a solution to this problem. We have to do better for our students, and there is no dollar amount too high when it comes to protecting children and their well-being.”

The bill, S-2757, would establish a minimum ratio of school bus aides to special needs students on a school bus.   Under the bill, a board of education or a contracted service provider that provides pupil transportation services must ensure that a school bus has on board at least one school bus aide for every 15 students with special needs.  The aide-to-student ratio must be maintained at all times when a school bus is transporting students with special needs or a combination of students with special needs and general education students.

The legislation comes after a series of assaults took place on school buses in the Trenton school district.

In one incident, a bus carrying 40 children had only one aide when an eight year old girl with special needs was sexually assaulted by a male student.  In another incident, a 4-year-old Trenton student with special needs was physically assaulted on a bus with no aides.  That incident was profiled by The Trentonian. In the story, Trenton’s superintendent didn’t say whether aides would be placed on buses as a result of the incident.

“Bus drivers can’t be expected to deal with discipline problems when they need to pay attention to the traffic on the road,” added Senator Turner.  “One bus aide is not enough on a packed school bus that includes children with special needs who may be more vulnerable to attacks and more sensitive to school bus commotion.  Some parents don’t have the luxury of choosing to transport their children themselves.  We must ensure that every school bus has an appropriate number of adults to help deal with discipline issues and protect students.  It’s a matter of protection for every child that rides the bus.”

Current State statutes and State Board of Education regulations do not require a certain aide-to-student ratio for school buses. Transportation must be provided according to the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can include, but is not limited to, special transportation equipment, transportation aides, and special arrangements for other assistance to and from school.

The bill cleared the full Senate 27-9 and will next head to the Assembly for further consideration.

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