Education news roundup: Monday, March 10

School bus drivers. Legislators on Monday continued to wrestle with questions over what responsibilities school bus drivers have when student safety is threatened.

Last month, senators altered the language of Senate Bill 1232, which is designed to give school bus drivers civil and criminal immunity if they act reasonably in intervening if student riders are in danger of harm or injury.

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Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry

They also added language that would give that same immunity if bus drivers failed to act, and the bill sailed through the Senate 34-0.

On Monday, the debate shifted to the House Education Committee, where representatives sent the bill in for more changes. The requested changes include removing the Senate-backed language protecting drivers if they fail to act.

“So we hold (a driver) harmless if he… observes in the back somebody really pummel another (student)?” asked Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry “He doesn’t have to do anything and he’s OK?”

Backers of the bill, including Boise Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, said the “failure to act” clause was added because there may be situations where a threat would become worse if the driver stopped the bus and got involved. By way of example, they envisioned a situation where two large, older students were fighting and a 105-pound bus driver was behind the wheel.

If members of the House succeed in removing that language, the bill would still need to go back to the Senate for approval – which could set up a late-session showdown between the two legislative chambers over the role of bus drivers.

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The Idaho Education Association teachers union is backing the bill, saying drivers can help improve safety and head off threats if they act in a reasonable way.

Responsibility (for student safety) does not start at the classroom door,” IEA Public Policy Director Matt Compton said. “The bus is an extension of that classroom.”

The bill next heads to the House floor for consideration of amendments.

Data security. The amending process went smoothly for supporters of a student data security bill.

A floor battle over amendments never materialized — and without debate or dissent, the Senate made several changes to Senate Bill 1372.

Among them: the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education will have to submit an annual report to legislators, outlining any agreements to share student data with other state agencies.

SB 1372 now awaits a Senate vote.