Time running out for Florida lawmakers to pass bill requiring certain therapies for special needs students in schools

Time is running out for state lawmakers to pass a measure that would require school districts to allow certain types of therapy for special needs students in classrooms.

Time is running out for state lawmakers to pass a measure that would require school districts to allow certain types of therapy for special needs students in classrooms.

The bill was written after Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray exposed discrepancies in local school districts about whether registered behavior technicians are allowed on campus.

Now, the lawmaker behind the bill is hoping for it to be moved up to a special vote before the legislative session ends.

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“Orange County does not allow RBTs in the classroom, so you're looking at the ninth largest district in the country limiting services for their students,” Republican Florida Rep. Rene Plasencia said.

By phone from Tallahassee on Tuesday, Plasencia explained that his bill, which would make it clear districts are required to allow RBTs to help kids such as Andrew, has already made it out of the House. But its partner bill in the Senate may have stalled. With just over a week left in the legislative session, the Senate bill still needs to clear another committee before going to a full vote.

“It’s important that we get this bill passed this year, if we want to make sure kids on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities get the services they need,” Plasencia said.

Districts in Lake, Volusia and Seminole counties all allow RBTs in classrooms. Osceola and Orange counties do not. Following Channel 9’s reporting, Brevard County Schools has been working with the Pogar family to establish rules for allowing the therapy in class.

Plasencia is hoping that if the Senate version of the bill is not heard in committee, it will be brought to a full vote instead.

“You need to waive the rules to do that, and the Senate president doesn't like to do that too often, but he will do it, and he does it every session,” Plasencia said.

The bill would also create licensure exemptions for autism centers. Plasencia says without that, dozens of those centers across the state could close by the end of this year due to new rules put in place by the Agency For Healthcare Administration. Plasencia believes that is the portion of the bill that could hold things up in the state Senate.