Following the death of 11-year-old Annaliese Backner, who was killed after running after her school bus, tripping, and falling underneath the wheels as it was moving, several Colorado representatives pointed to the importance a new bill could have on student safety.
For Dan Sperry, a detective in Idaho and a Child Safety Network senior advisor on school bus safety, the tragedy hits close to home. On Dec. 11, 2011, Sperry witnessed the immediate aftermath of his 11-year-old stepdaughter Makayla being hit and killed by an illegally passing motorist.
“Our hearts go out to Anna’s family,” Sperry said. “My wife Melissa and I know what they are going through to lose a daughter full of life and potential. We are not sure that people understand that this type of tragedy will continue if left alone; or that it affects the entire community, or that we have been fighting for three years to get lawmakers in Colorado to pass the type of legislation that could have saved Anna and Makayla.”
Sperry was referring to Colorado Senate Bill 85, introduced on Jan. 20, which aims to create the Colorado Safe Student Protection Program. The program would provide grants to school districts and charter schools to support student safety. This includes equipment and training to help ensure safe student transportation on school buses.
The bill also would develop a website, online application and mobile app to provide parental notifications about student safety and age-appropriate health and safety information at no cost to parents.
If passed, the Colorado Department of Education would operate the grant program and select a program facilitator to support schools awarded a program grant. The department would also allocate a portion of the program money to the program facilitator. The program would last three years, covering the 2022-2023 through 2024-2025 school year.
According to SB85, a grant recipient may use a grant award to:
- Provide parents with secure digital notification and information tools
- Increase the safety of students and the security of school buses by equipping school buses with hardware and software that monitor driver behavior and enable the buses to communicate directly with first responders
- Fund relevant school bus safety training, including federal transportation security awareness training
Additionally, the program facilitator, which must have at least seven years of experience in student safety, including student transportation safety, must use program funds to:
- Support program grant recipients
- Develop the secure digital notification and information tools
- Recruit school bus drivers and conduct or facilitate federal transportation security awareness training
- Develop and make publicly available school bus transportation safety information and age-appropriate student safety educational materials
- Conduct a statewide awareness campaign to reduce instances of drivers illegally failing to stop for a school bus
- Seek additional sources of funding on behalf of the program
“As president of the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association (CSPTA), we interact with and support the vast majority of public schools and school districts plus we collaborate with charter, private and other schools that use school buses as the safest way to transport students to and from their school sites,” said CSPTA president David Hartzell. “Speaking on behalf of our over 170 active school and school districts, we all stand in favor of, and wholeheartedly support the goals and mission of SB22-085, the Safe Student Protection Program.”
Hartzell, who is also the director of transportation for Harrison School District 2 in Colorado, is reportedly one of the 17 experts that testified in favor of the Safe Student Protection Program.
However, not everyone is on board. A press release states that a few lawmakers seek to amend the bill, “that costs pennies of taxpayer dollars followed by the potential of millions of dollars of corporately funded support.”
Ward Leber, founder of the 32-year-old National Child Safety Network stated that “Colorado does not have a lack of funds to use as an accuse to avoid funding the most comprehensive student safety bill ever introduced. Instead, it has a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus and the passage of SB 85 is all about priorities.”
Greg Jackson, the transportation director of fleet services for Jeffco Public Schools added, “I believe we have the best chance in any of our lifetimes to make the generational investment in pupil transportation that will help us meet our state’s school district’s most pressing challenges today and create a stronger future for decades to come.”