How can some people argue against safety for schoolchildren?
My daughter, Ashley, was on a motor coach with her teammates of the West Brook High School girls varsity soccer team, here in Beaumont, Texas, on March 29, 2006, on their way to a playoff game in Houston. In the middle of a rainstorm, the bus left the road and overturned. My daughter was ejected through the motor coach window, causing her death. Her teammate Alicia Bonura was also killed. Two other teammates were trapped under the bus for over an hour.
After the funerals, the mourning, the surgeries, we began asking what any parent would: How did this happen, why did it happen, and how can we prevent this from ever happening again? We learned that many schools use chartered motor coaches for school activities, and those motor coaches lack some of the safety features required in cars, including lap and shoulder belts, safety glass in those large windows and roof crush protection. Most school buses don’t have lap and shoulder belts, either.
We formed West Brook Bus Crash Families to advocate for safer bus travel for schoolchildren. Seat belts are a safety measure that we all expect in our own vehicles, and we’re able to say truthfully that about the only place a child learns not to wear a lap and shoulder belt is at school.
The Beaumont Independent School District became the first in Texas to require lap and shoulder belts on all new school buses. It also added 30 new school buses with seat belts, which enabled them to eliminate the use of motor coaches for all school activities.
My training as a CPA has helped as our group works to overcome resistance among directors of student transportation and their cost arguments against seat belts on school buses. Digging into their numbers, we realized the assumptions they were using were not based on fact or experience and were 15 times actual cost. As an active member of the Texas Society of CPAs, I had developed relationships with our Texas state legislators, advocating for issues, and had learned how the process works. Just as our daughters were members of the same team, we parents all worked together for the cause. One injured girl’s father, Steve Forman, is an attorney with engineering experience and railroad clients, so he knows the transportation codes and has been effective at shaping our arguments.
My firm has been supportive. I’m a shareholder with Edgar Kiker & Cross, the firm that gave me an internship 28 years ago and where I’ve been ever since. As it happens, the Texas legislative session begins in January and ends in May, which like any local firm, is our busiest time. They are gracious to allow me to spend time away in campaign mode.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed “Ashley and Alicia’s Bill” at West Brook High School, requiring all Texas school buses purchased after Sept. 1, 2010, to be equipped with shoulder and lap belts.
Our next steps took our fight to the nation. Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is a co-sponsor, along with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, of S 2326, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which will require common-sense safety measures on motor coaches, including seat belts, safety glass and improved firefighting equipment. Our Rep. Ted Poe is a co-sponsor, along with Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, of HR 6747, the House companion legislation.
The loss of a child leaves a gaping hole in families, and we know it will never be the same and that we’ll always be imprinted by the experience. But it doesn’t have to define who we are. What defines us is how we respond. And I found that the work toward this legislative remedy was a redeeming one for me. It allowed me to find something good out of something so horrible, and somehow, I feel, it provides some memorial to my precious daughter. If I can just prevent other parents from going through what I’ve been through by my effort—our effort—that would be a good thing.
West Brook Bus Crash Families, www.safebuses4kids.org