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 Senate Education Committee today.

“Our schools have the responsibility to ensure that our children are transported safely to and from school,” said Senator Turner. “Establishing a ratio of bus aides to children with special needs will help them meet that responsibility. It is impossible for a bus driver to both focus on the road and manage the behavior of children on the bus. School bus aides not only provide an extra pair of eyes for monitoring the students, they help manage children that may be more sensitive to the commotion on the school bus.”

The bill, S2757, 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.

“Children with special needs are at greater risk of being victims of bad behavior,” said Senator Turner. “Having another adult present to deal with discipline problems and to protect students helps make the trip safer for everyone. No parent wants to put their children in a situation where their safety and wellbeing is at risk. Some parents have no option but to rely on school transportation, and they deserve to have the peace of mind that their children will not be assaulted and traumatized on the trip to or from school.”

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 committee 4-0-1 and will now head to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.