HOUSTON — Students in the Houston Independent School District (ISD) who ride school buses with three-point seat belts will be required to wear them, the school board decided last week.
The updated code of student conduct that the Houston ISD board approved on June 9 also includes language that encourages — but doesn't require — students to buckle up on buses that are equipped with lap-only belts.
In November, Houston ISD committed to including three-point belts on all its new school buses. The move followed a statement by Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who said his agency’s new position is that “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”
The district’s commitment to the three-point, lap-shoulder restraints also came two months after a fatal school bus crash in which two Houston ISD students were killed and two other students and the bus driver were seriously injured. That bus, which was equipped with lap belts, was struck by another vehicle, crashed through a freeway overpass guardrail, and landed overturned on the road below. Investigators found that the students on the bus were not wearing their lap belts.
Adding three-point belts has increased the cost of a new school bus by about $8,000 for Houston ISD. This fall, the district will replace 60 older buses with new models equipped with the lap-shoulder restraints. The new buses will be assigned to the longest routes that carry elementary students.
Houston ISD’s 1,100-bus fleet currently includes about 430 with lap belts and 90 with three-point belts.
Texas is one of six states that have passed legislation aimed at requiring seat belts on school buses. However, Texas’ legislation was contingent on funding being allocated to pay for the restraints, which is not currently happening, so the mandate has not been enforced.
Starting next school year, Texas will stop providing transportation funding to Houston ISD, which got $12 million for transportation from the state last year.
According the district, the loss of transportation funding is due to the state’s school finance system now considering Houston ISD to be a wealthy district — even though reportedly three-quarters of Houston students live in poverty.