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The bISD Example
On July 27, 2006, the Beaumont Independent School District became the first School District in Texas to order Lap-Shoulder Seat Belts on all new school buses purchased.
How Parents worked with the Administration and School Board
As would be expected, after such a traumatic accident, there were many questions asked. Why were some girls ejected from the bus? Why were the girls killed when the bus just tipped on its side? Would this have happened if the bus had seatbelts? Why were they traveling on a charter bus? Why does the school district use charter buses (motor coaches)?
Our own research taught us that school buses were a much safer way to transport children, which was news to us. However, school buses still do not have seatbelts, which would prevent serious injury in a highway speed impact and/or rollover. New technology for bus seats that incorporates lap/shoulder seatbelts and compartmentalization is now available. BISD participates in a UIL district that includes several Houston area schools. BISD must transport our kids 100 miles away to play any sport, several times a season. The district was chartering motor coaches for most of these trips.
We as parents of the girls involved in the accident, asked to meet with the school district to discuss these and other questions. Beaumont ISD was immediately responsive and scheduled a meeting in May with the Assistant Superintendent of Administration, the Director of Transportation and the Director of Finance. We asked the questions:
- How many buses does the district have?
- How many routes does the district run on a normal day?
- How many students ride on each bus?
- How many students ride on a bus for an out of town game or field trip?
- When are the most buses used for long distance, highway travel?
- How many buses are used at this peak time?
- How often does the district purchase new buses?
- What bus manufacturer does the district use?
- What is the average cost per bus that the district purchases?
- What would be the additional cost if seatbelts were added?
- What would be the cost to retrofit a currently owned bus?
- Why does the district charter motor coaches for out of town travel?
- How much does the district spend to charter motor coaches per trip? Per year?
We learned that BISD was in the process of updating their bus fleet and were purchasing approximately 20 new buses per year. Also, in response to our accident, the district instituted a new policy of using only school buses for trips within 125 miles. They had also planned to purchase 20 additional buses so that the fleet could handle buses being out of town and also cover the regular routes.
The Transportation Director provided us with the information that adding lap/shoulder seatbelts would increase the cost of the buses BISD purchased by $10,000 per bus. This worked out to be about 10% of the total cost. Retrofitting a currently owned bus would be more than $30,000. The discussions revealed to us that retrofitting the current fleet was cost prohibitive. Phasing in buses with lap/shoulder seatbelts was much more feasible. Also, for safety reasons, BISD does not typically fill its buses to capacity (three students to a seat), thus the concern of reduced seating capacity was not an issue.
We asked these administrators to ask the Superintendent to consider adding lap/shoulder seatbelts to the current 20 bus order, giving the district buses to use for the long distance, highway speed trips; the trips that provide the most exposure. We also asked about making these buses as “trip worthy” as possible to discourage the use of charter buses on even longer trips. The addition of such items as a DVD player and storage compartments would eliminate the allure of a charter bus.
During the summer, BISD did their homework and the Director of Transportation thoroughly researched the proposal. At the July school board meeting, the parents made a presentation explaining the benefits of lap/shoulder seatbelts and how we believe they would have prevented the deaths and many of the injuries sustained in our accident. The Director of Transportation then made a recommendation that the 20 buses previously ordered be adjusted to 30 buses with lap/shoulder seatbelts, DVD players, and upgraded air conditioners. The increase to 30 buses was to insure that the nights BISD had two high schools out of town, that all the students on the trip could be buckled. There was some discussion and clarification of some points, including the educational value of the DVD players. Ultimately, the Beaumont ISD School Board voted unanimously to purchase buses with lap/shoulder seat belts and received a standing ovation!
In January, 2007, the first of the new buses arrived in Beaumont. The West Brook Girls Soccer Team was buckled for their first trip to an out of town game of a new season!
BISD administration is committed to include lap/shoulder seatbelts on all buses purchased in the future which will turnover our fleet in 5 to 7 years. We are very proud to be a leading school district in this effort. We regret that it took an accident as horrific as ours to accomplish this. Please use our story to do the same in your district. Don't wait for tragedy!