Month: <span>October 2015</span>

A toothless school seat belt law


Some 1.5 million of Texas’ 5 million-plus public school students ride the bus to school, and day in and day out they get to campus and back home safely. But when the rare tragedy strikes, as it did last month when two Houston ISD students were killed in a bus accident, one issue that is almost sure to reemerge is seat belt usage.

This is an issue that state government tried to address with a 2007 law, following a previous fatal bus accident involving a high school soccer team from Beaumont. But the statute was woefully under-funded, mostly ignored and is now toothless.

According to the Houston Chronicle’s Ericka Mellon, in a story linked below, the bus involved in the accident in Houston last month had lap belts, not the more-secure, three-point belts that go over a passenger’s shoulder as well as waist. Officials haven’t said if the students on the bus were wearing them.

The 2007 law required all school buses purchased on or after Sept. 1, 2010, to have three-point belts. The Chronicle story provides a pretty thorough account of how the law fell way shortof its goal.

In 2009, two years after the law was enacted, the Legislature appropriated $10 million to carry it out, way short of the $31 million that local school officials believed was the full cost of compliance for all school districts. Only 12 districts, according to the Chronicle, applied to the Texas Education Agency for seat-belt grants in late 2010 and early 2011. And, some of those districts withdrew their requests after realizing the state assistance covered only seat belts, not the total cost of buying new buses.

In 2011, TEA distributed only $416,582 of the seat belt allotment. Remember, 2011 was the same year the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public education budgets, and the remaining seat belt appropriation was transferred to other education programs or put back in the state treasury. With no remaining state appropriation, the seat belt law is unenforceable.

The $416,582 was shared by Austin ISD, Pettus ISD, South Texas ISD and Dallas County Schools, which operates buses for Dallas ISD and 10 other districts. According to the Chronicle, Dallas County Schools is considered an “outlier” in seat belt use with all of its buses, except back-ups, having seat belts. And nearly two-thirds of those are three-point belts. State funding provided only a fraction of the cost.

Houston ISD applied for a seat belt grant in 2010 but never completed the application process because district officials believed they didn’t meet all of TEA’s criteria. Statewide, the Chronicle reported, most standard-size school buses in Texas still lack seat belts.


PTA needs more than stay-at-home moms


I certainly don’t object to stay-at-home moms – or stay-at-home dads – playing an active role in the PTA. But I do object to stay-at-home parents making it more difficult for other parents to participate. I am familiar with one grade school in Austin where PTA leaders do this, intentionally or not, by scheduling all PTA meetings during the work day, making it impossible or extremely difficult for most working parents to attend.

Because some stay-at-home parents from one-income families are more affluent than many other parents, this raises a potential difference in a local PTA’s economic perspective. And, that difference becomes more critical on campuses that are undergoing significant demographic and cultural changes.

One of these schools (there are many) is Huffman Elementary in Plano ISD, the subject of a Dallas Morning News article linked below. The story, which may be behind a paywall, tells how parents at Huffman have recognized the inclusive role the PTA must play for student success and the steps they have taken to accomplish it.

Huffman used to serve almost exclusively an affluent student body. But in recent years, a growing number of subsidized apartments has created an influx of working families and single mothers into the neighborhood. Consequently, students at the school now are mostly minority and low-income.

“But despite the changing demographics, some felt the school’s PTA reflected only one type of parent: affluent stay-at-home moms,” the newspaper reported.

That began to change when the PTA took steps to ensure that all parents were included. A bilingual survey of parents was conducted, and the PTA began sending out invitations to school events in both English and Spanish. The PTA also started scheduling meetings so that working parents could attend.

Parental involvement increased, and Huffman earned recognition from the national PTA as a School of Excellence, one of only 11 in Texas to receive the honor this year.

“In many ways, Huffman is a microcosm of Plano ISD, which has become more economically and racially diverse in recent years,” the Dallas News wrote.

Huffman is a microcosm of the entire Texas public school system, where Hispanic and African American students outnumber Anglos and most students are from low-income families. Parental involvement – the involvement of all parents – is crucial to student success, and local PTAs must take steps to ensure that all parents have a chance to participate.