Local third-graders work to get seat belts on school buses

BEACHWOOD, Ohio - Beachwood could become the first in Ohio where the city partners with its school district to fund safer school buses.

"It's great to be the first to do something that will create a safer environment for our children," said Beachwood City Council Vice President James Pasch.

Under proposed legislation, introduced Monday night, the city will pay up to $250,000 to install seat belts on the district's new school buses replaced over time. Council members approved the funding.

The big idea came from some of Beachwood's smallest residents. Third grade students at Hilltop Elementary School were encouraged to develop ideas during classroom visits and discussions with members of city council.

"Each section of third graders would come up with their top idea of a law or an ordinance, explained Pasch. "Then city council would discuss each top idea and see if we would create a law."

When the students asked for seat belts on school buses, the request resonated with Councilman Pasch haunted by a childhood crash.

"This particular issue strikes a chord with me because when I was in high school my school bus flipped over on the way to school in New Jersey," said the councilman.

"I broke my neck and my back," he continued. "Including C4, C5 and C6 of my neck and spent the better part of a year in a full body brace. I still remember to this day, the moment it was like for my feet to hit the ground again."

The councilman now vows to do everything in his power to give students the safest ride possible.

Under the proposal, the school district would purchase new buses as needed; when a purchase is made the city would pay for the installation of seat belts. A city spokesperson said some estimates put the installation at several thousand dollars, trying to retrofit an older bus would be even more expensive.

"Kids are safer on school buses than in their own parents' cars," said Beachwood City Schools Superintendent Robert Hardis.

There is no law requiring buses must be equipped with seat belts in Ohio. According to Hardis, the National Transportation Safety Board does recommend seat belts be placed on school buses.

It could take more than a decade for the bus fleet to be completely equipped with seat belts, if two new buses are purchased every year.

"I don't think students will think twice about it because in every other setting when they get into a car, a a bus, a van, other than a yellow school bus they're strapping in and they have done so their entire lives," said Hardis.

During Monday's meeting, third grade students behind the proposed legislation watched their civics lesson in action and as a special treat, they were rewarded with ice cream.

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