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Tragic Death of Whittier Student Inspires Bill
Sacramento – After hearing testimony from the parents of Paul Lee, a special needs student from Whittier, who tragically passed away last year after being left unattended on school bus for many hours, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee approved SB 1072, authored by Senator Tony Mendoza on a unanimous bipartisan vote of 10 to 0.
The bill known as the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law” would require school buses in California to be equipped with child-safety alarm systems to ensure that children are not left on buses unattended and in potentially hazardous circumstances. It would also require drivers, upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate, to receive training in child-safety check procedures.
“No parent should fear that their child will not return home safely at the end of the day, ” said Senator Tony Mendoza. “My hope is that SB 1072 will prevent future tragedies by requiring every school bus in the state to be equipped with a child-safety alarm system. ”
Said Eun Ha Lee, Paul Lee’s Mother, “Paul loved to go to school and when he took his seat on the school bus on September 11, 2015, I believed he was in safe hands. But on that day, he was not safe. He was left on that hot school bus for many hours and due to the carelessness of others, my son lost his life. Paul’s death should never have happened and I will remain vigilant that it will not be without change. When a child boards a school bus, there should never be a fear of them being left behind. Senate Bill 1072 is the first step in backing up our words with actions and I want to thank Senator Mendoza for authoring it. Knowing this bill has been written in his name will put a smile on Paul’s face in heaven.”
“The State Council on Developmental Disabilities is proud to Sponsor SB 1072, and we are grateful to Senator Mendoza for carrying this important bill. The tragedy in Whittier was totally avoidable. The state must take decisive action to ensure something like this never occurs again, ” said Dr. April Lopez, Chair of the Council.
A school bus child-safety alarm system generates an audible sound when the ignition of the vehicle is turned off. This alarm requires the bus driver to walk to the rear of the vehicle to silence the alarm, thereby detecting any remaining children or passengers on the school bus. Some states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin, already require school buses and childcare vehicles over a certain passenger size to be equipped with child-safety alarms.
“California should join other states that require child-safety alarm systems on school buses. It is vital that we do everything we can to protect the many thousands of children transported daily to and from school, ” said Senator Tony Mendoza. “It is my hope that we can find some meaning in the recent tragic loss of a Whittier student on a school bus, in the form of meaningful change that will safeguard other children. It should not take events like this one to spur us into action on these issues. ”
Current law requires public and private school districts to create and follow a transportation safety plan containing procedures for school personnel to follow to ensure the safe transportation of pupils. The plans must include specific procedures on boarding and exiting a school bus at each pupil’s bus stop and at the final trip destination.
Additionally, to operate a school bus, a driver is required to obtain a California Special Driver Certificate from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which entails classroom instruction, special training, and testing. Annual renewal of the certificate is required and involves 10 hours of renewal classroom instruction, or behind-the-wheel or in-service training.
During the last several years in California, there have been several cases where children were left on school buses unattended and found hours later. An example of one such case occurred last year in Los Angeles when a special needs student died after being left alone accidentally on a bus for many hours.
Specifically, SB 1072 will:
Require all school buses to be equipped with an operational child-safety alarm system that prompts the driver to inspect all seats before leaving the bus. The system must be approved by the CHP and hard-wired into the vehicle’s electrical system and activated when the ignition is turned on.
Require drivers upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate to receive training in child-safety check procedures.
Add a reporting requirement to ensure that the Department of Motor Vehicles is notified of cases when a child is left on a bus unattended.
Direct the CHP to promulgate rules to implement this section and provide a list of child-safety alarms that are approved for use in school busses and a qualified technician or mechanic that can install the system.
Grant school districts and school bus contractors a grace period of eight months after the date that the CHP issues the rules to install a child safety alarm system.
Before today’s hearing, a press conference in support of SB 1072 was held on the West Steps of the Capitol with the Lee family, Senator Mendoza, advocates and two yellow school buses to demonstrate the effectiveness of child-safety alarm-systems and why school districts throughout the state should be required to install them in every school bus. Video and photos of the press event may be found at the following links:
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