TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — There has been a successful push to extend special education in New Jersey, after more than a year of learning lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

CBS2’s Meg Baker spoke recently with families who said the move is crucial and hope Gov. Phil Murphy will sign it into law in time for the start of the next school year.

“I don’t call it an additional year. I call it a replacement year,” parent Laura Colnes said.

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For special needs students like Colnes’ 21-year-old autistic son, Sammy, remote learning just doesn’t work.

“They can’t practice community skills in the kitchen. They can’t practice job skills in the dining room. They have to be out in the community,” Colnes said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

On Thursday, the Assembly unanimously passed a bill already approved by the Senate that would give certain special education students, exceeding the age of eligibility, which is 21, an added year of education, one time only, due to COVID-19.

Ridgewood resident Tim Kane’s son lost 150 days of one-on-one instruction.

“We have a 21-year-old son who has severe autism and epilepsy and the passage of this bill will give him another year developing and continue to develop the critical life skills that he’ll need for adult transition,” Kane said.

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Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, the director of Autism NJ, says this is critical, especially for young people ages 18-21.

“We know that children with autism and intellectual disability learn at a slower rate, so it takes them a longer amount of time to learn even the most basic skills,” Buchanan said.

Statistics from the Office of Special Education show there are more than 200,000 special needs students serviced in the state.

“As far as the funding, I’m hoping that we can get some of this funding from the CARES Act, and that will help fill in any of the budgetary concerns,” Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle said.

“The more independent they are, the less support they’ll need in the long run. So, it’s a win for everybody,” Colnes said.

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The legislation is headed for Gov. Murphy’s signature by June so a plan can be enacted for the start of the next school year. It has the potential to positively impact thousands of young adults.

Currently, children with disabilities have a federal entitlement to education services from age 3 to 21. The legislation gives them an added year beyond that.

CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report

CBSNewYork Team