Leander ISD, Texas school districts consider how to address new state bus law

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Leander ISD, Texas school districts consider how to address new state bus lawStarting this fall, Leander ISD and school districts across the state will have to comply with a new Texas law regarding seat belts on new school buses.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed State Senate Bill 693 into law June 15, requiring  any new school buses purchased by school districts to include seat belts for each passenger.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1. Six states, including Texas, require seat belts on school buses.

At LISD, the change in the law could affect the next round of bus purchases. Corey Ryan, a spokesperson for the school district, said LISD has 237 buses. The school board is considering a $454 million bond package, which voters could decide on in November that would include $10.2 million to purchase 88 buses.

“Under the new law, the 88 [school buses]all include seat belts,” Ryan said.

The law requires three-point seat belts, which include lap and shoulder straps, for each passenger. The requirement only applies to school buses purchased that are model year 2018 or later, so buses already in service will not have to be retrofitted with belts. Also, districts will not have to order new buses with seat belts if the district is not able to allocate the funds in the budget and if the school board approves the decision.

Leander ISD, Texas school districts consider how to address new state bus lawThe Legislature passed similar legislation—known as Ashley and Alicia’s law—in 2007. The law was named after two students who died in a bus crash in Houston in 2006. The law required state reimbursement for the purchase of school buses with seat belts, but few districts applied for funding.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, authored the 2017 bill and said in a statement that the law will make an impact on child safety.

“Safety experts, EMS professionals and common sense tell us that children need to be buckled up,” she stated. “We’ve put this off for too long on our school buses. We need every Texas child to be safe on the way to and from school.”

Supporters of the bill said it would help prevent fatalities and injuries from school bus crashes, citing student deaths on school buses in the past few years. In 2015 a Houston ISD school bus went over the side of an overpass in southeast Houston and fell, killing two students. Opponents argued that it would place an unfunded mandate on school districts.

Each year, districts across the state send accident reports to the Texas Education Agency. For the 2015-16 school year, LISD reported 37 accidents involving school buses. In those accidents, all buses had some passenger seats with lap belts. There were no injuries or fatalities.

Since fall 2011, the school district has reported 85 accidents involving school buses, in which there have been zero fatalities and three injuries. Out of all the accidents, 545 students were involved.

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