The Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation suffered an unimaginable tragedy at a school bus stop last month. Four children were hit and three of them died as they crossed the road in the early morning darkness.
While the legal system determines the blame in this case, there are a lot of questions about what else could be done to protect all school children at bus stops.
School corporation at center of deadly bus stop crash denies public access to records
Tippecanoe Valley is not alone in their grief. During that last week in October, there were five children across the nation killed in bus stop accidents. Seven other children were injured.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the most dangerous time for students is when theyre getting on or off the bus in the early morning hours, when kids might be waiting at stops in the dark.
Or in the case of Alivia Stahl, Xzavier and Mason Ingle, and Maverick Lowe, crossing a highway in the dark to board their waiting school bus.
Some argue that Congress should move Daylight Saving Time. Others ask for cameras on stop arms or tougher penalties for drivers who break the law.
But Jessica Chambers from Rochester says theres an easier way that makes the most sense. Shes started a movement to get laws changed so that Indiana school busses drop off and pick up students on the right side of the road.
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I just want to walk with her every single step, but its so hard with two other kids, said Chambers. In addition to McKinley, Jessica and her husband, Derrick, have 4-year-old Brenna and 9-month-old Evie.
This is the main road in and out, and everybodys flying to work, so its scary, said Chambers.
They live just north of Rochester, and only a few miles from a roadside memorial marking the scene where three children died.
Its just heartbreaking. Losing one kid, I cant even imagine. But three? And the one boy that was hurt, thats just terrible, said Chambers as tears filled her eyes.
With regards to your request for records under Indianas Access to Public Records Act, I have consulted with our legal counsel and we must deny the request because it is not reasonably particular.
Like so many in her community, she drives that same stretch of Highway 25, and its always on her mind.
The day after the accident, Jessica went online to Change.org and started a petition, calling it “Require Buses To Board Without Children Crossing The Street.”
Under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act § 5-14-3-1 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of the public records described above.
A child should not have to cross something like that, exclaimed Chambers. They shouldnt have to do that.
We cant trust the driver to stop, Chambers continued. You dont know whats going on in the car, in their mind. So we have to eliminate a situation which is the kids walking across the street.
I just didnt think it would catch on. I thought maybe my mom and maybe my grandma will like it or share it or something, laughed Chambers. I woke up and there were probably 500 signatures and I was really shocked. And it just blew up from there!
NewsCenter 16s Tricia Sloma took it straight to the state leaders of her district: Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel and State Senator Randy Head.
Up until 2015, we had a law on the books that said you had to pick up on the right side where practical, and that law was removed from the books, said Head.
In 2015 it was removed, and Im not sure why, said Head. I know that around that time there was an effort to look at laws that affected schools and to remove regulations that werent necessary or that the people thought werent necessary.
Head says before drafting new legislation, hes gathering information from all around the state, especially from bus drivers and superintendents.
I want to make sure were doing something thats going to have a substantial effect to make things safer for children out there, said Head.
Its possible to pass a law that makes schools do what we demand that they do, said Head. But, if we dont pay for that and its just an unfunded mandate, we create more problems for schools that way.
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There are a lot of people who have a lot of ideas, said Head. The thing is, get the best ideas, make sure they are evidence-based and to move forward.
One idea comes from Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel. He wants a distracted driving bill to include stop arm cameras by the next legislative session. Its something he was working on weeks before the tragedy.
Theres 20 other states that currently have stop arm cameras. And theres different variations of them, said Pressel.
This is your opportunity to speak to everyone who signed that petition in your district. What are you willing to do? Sloma asked Pressel.
Im already a step ahead, right? So the legislation is being crafted. I wish I could tell you exactly what the legislation is, but there are so many moving pieces, answered Pressel. As it goes through the General Assembly this session, there will still be a lot of moving pieces. There will be some changes.
I think a piece of legislation sends a message to it. Its important and you should be taking a good hard look at it, said Pressel. I think a lot of our school boards/school superintendents are already looking in that direction.
Like Rochester Community School Superintendent Jana Vance. That district rerouted their busses to pick up and drop off curbside right after the tragedy and before they knew of Jessica Chambers petition.
For us, its not going to add a lot of money or time to the routes, nor is it going to add a huge change in effort to get this done, said Vance.
Honestly, if they lose two minutes on a bus route, who cares? said Brad Weaver, the Rochester School Board president and an Indiana state trooper. Its time. If we have to pay an extra $100 a year for fuel, who cares? Ill pay the money if we had to! Anybody would! Its very much common sense, and thats what were trying to do here.
You can only blame the driver so much. What can we do to avoid putting our kids lives in the trust of someone we dont even know? said Chambers.
Its tough, just because it is such a small town, said Chambers. It couldve been someone on my daughters bus. Couldve been my daughter. It was so close to home.
If you would like to contact either State Senator Randy Head or State Representative Jim Pressel, here is their contact information.
Indiana SenateState House200 W. Washington StreetIndianapolis, IN 46204Phone: 800-382-9467 or 317-232-9400Email: [email protected]
Indiana House of RepresentativesState House200 W. Washington StreetIndianapolis, IN 46204800-382-9841 or 317-234-9380 Email: [email protected]
Heres the link for Jessica Chambers petition on Change.org: change.org/p/require-buses-to-board-without-children-crossing-the-street