Courtesy of The Associated Press

Nine students around the nation, including one in Wyoming, died at or near school bus stops in 2011.

The horror of that death and the number of drivers who disregard rules involving buses stopped for students has prompted a
Wyoming legislative committee to consider ways to increase safety.

Initially, the interim Joint Education Committee will work from a new Iowa law that increases penalties for failing to heed school bus warning devices. In addition, lawmakers expressed interest in equipping all Wyoming school buses with cameras that can capture images of violators.

Work on a proposal will begin this summer, with a bill possibly going to the full Legislature next year.

The discussion on school bus safety is being driven by students and staff members at Fremont County School District 6.

On Dec. 20, 2011, a district student _ 11-year-old MaKayla Marie Strahle of Crowheart _ was struck and killed as she crossed a highway after getting off a school bus that had its flashing lights activated. The driver of the vehicle was convicted of several misdemeanor charges, including homicide by vehicle.

Diana Clapp, superintendent of the school district, said a dozen students have been working hard to research the safety issue and come up with solutions. Clapp and several students made a presentation on Monday to the Joint Education Committee in Casper.

"This is tied to a tragic loss of a young girl in our school and community and their classmate and friend," Clapp said Wednesday. "But I believe they did a good job in addition to that personal testimony looking to see what other states are doing and how it would apply across the state."

The district has installed cameras on six school buses to record vehicles that illegally pass _ an action called a drive-by or

Clapp said the rural district, which encompasses about 1,300 square miles, includes about 400 kindergarten through 12th grade students, and many rely on school buses for transportation.

"Students on the road is a big issue for us _ either on buses or driving themselves to and from school," she said.

In addition to tougher penalties and bus cameras, Clapp said she'd like to see safer practices involving unloading and road crossings made standard across the state.

Wyoming, which has been tracking fly-bys since 1999, counted 297 in one day in 2011-12. Over the entire school year that figure could have reached an estimated 52,000 violations, said David Koskelowski, program manager for traffic safety and pupil transportation with the state Education Department.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services estimated that more than 16 million illegal school
bus passings occurred in 2012.

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Courtesy of:  Eric Blom - The Riverton Ranger

Motivated by a classmate's death, a group of Fremont County School District 6 tudents are lobbying the state Legislature to change laws about school bus safety.  The children made a presentation to Fremont County Commission at its March 12
meeting, and the county board pledged its support.

"After we had the death of a student in school, this group wanted to move forward and get some laws changed about bus safety," Wind River Middle School principle Jeffrey Verosky said.

Verosky was referring to the Dec. 20, 2011, death of Makayla Marie Strahle, who had just stepped off her school bus and was crossing a road when a vehicle struck her.

The Wind River High School and Middle School students traveled to Cheyenne during the recent legislative session and spoke with the joint Education Committee.

Verosky, school resource officer Sheriff's deputy Brett Johnson, district transportation director Kevin Schieffer and school counselor Amy Sennett accompanied the students to see the county board.

"(Legislators) are going to move forward and look at some proposals (the students) put forward," Verosky tells The Riverton Ranger.

Several told commissioners their classmate's death affected them strongly. Seventh-grader Klayton Rose said he was friends with the victim and rode the bus with her.

The night of the accident, he and Makayla were riding the bus home from a Christmas dance, Klayton said. When the girl was hit, he ran out to check on her, and his brother ran to tell her dad.

"I didn't know something like that could happen. Before then I always felt safe getting on and off the bus; I no longer feel that way," Klayton said. "Every time I get on the bus, it's sad not seeing her."

The students said Wyoming has weak penalties for drivers who pass buses stopped with their lights flashing and stop signs extended, incidents which are called "fly-bys."

Tenth-grader Ambrielle Brown said the fine for a fly-by in Wyoming is $420. A citation is not mandatory, and the penalty does not increase for repeat offenders.

Students say such drivers also could be charged with reckless driving, but the current laws are not enough. They recommend a harsher penalty for bus fly-bys.

Others described how recording license plates of people who pass stopped buses is difficult for bus drivers, complicating enforcing the existing laws. Schieffer said cameras on the buses have trouble recording fly-bys because the vehicles often operate in low light. He said local terrain can block radio signals, further impeding incident reporting.

Student Stephen Littleshield described an Iowa law which imposed a $350-750 fine on the first offense and up to a year in jail. Penalties increase until a third offense is considered a felony punishable with up to five years in jail and $7,500 in fines.

"We lobbied the legislature to pass a similar law to deter people from passing stopped school buses," Stephen said.

The students said education is another way to address fly-bys. Seventh-grader Cole Nelson said, the Department of Education taped several radio spots, some involving District 6 students, asking drivers to be more careful around buses.

Colton Anderson said the Wyoming Department of Transportation has placed three billboards in the Pavillion area addressing school bus safety.  The students also recommended any drivers in a collision with a school bus undergo a blood test. Currently the bus drivers in a collision must submit to such a test, but it's up to law enforcement's discretion to test the other vehicle's driver, they said. Commissioners commended the students and said they would support their efforts.

"If you could give us a little lead time, I wouldn't have any problem attending the meeting to support these students' efforts," chairman Doug Thompson said.

"I would like to congratulate you for an excellent presentation, for the research that you did, and the personal accounts of your friend who died," Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said. "I know that was pretty hard."

Thompson said he would talk to commissioners from other counties would lobby the Legislature as well. He thought officials from other counties would be supportive.

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