March 3, 2020
Member Action | HB 490
Mary Adelyn Frasier, MAE Public Affairs Intern
“This is very much a school safety issue.”
That is what George Stewart had to say about House Bill 490. Stewart is a teacher at Whitten Middle School, and the father of a child with non-verbal autism. Because of this, Stewart is very aware of the dangers that autistic children who have wandering tendences face when they leave home, and this is what inspired him to approach House Representative Christopher Bell with the idea for a bill to protect these children.
“Autism is a developmental disability, and 50% of children diagnosed with autism struggle with wandering tendencies. This means that they do not have a clear idea of safe boundaries; they tend to wander off if they are not properly monitored and can get into dangerous situations,” said Stewart.
House Bill 490 would require public school districts and charter schools to take precautionary measures to keep these children safe, including cameras at school entrances and exits and safety alarms. Stewart and Bell were both able to give examples of cases in which a child with wandering tendencies died as a result of walking away from their safe space, and although there has not been a recently confirmed case of a child in Mississippi dying as a result of wandering from school, they want this bill to be a preventative measure.
“It’s important that we get this bill passed, because even one case of a child dying or being injured as a result of wandering from school is too many,” Stewart continued.
Rep. Bell has a strong background in school safety legislation, which is why Stewart chose to bring this issue to him. The process of how Stewart turned his passion for school safety into actual legislation is one that we here at the Mississippi Association of Educators hope to see more citizens get involved in.
Mr. Stewart met Rep. Bell at a leadership development program, and afterwards he came to speak to his class. “This is how we met, but even after this he made himself very available to our school. Knowing that Mr. Bell has sponsored schools safety legislation, I knew that he would be a great person to speak to about my bill proposal. When I presented this to him, he was very open minded and immediately on board,” he said.
Rep. Bell also hopes that this will inspire more people to get involved in the legislative process.
“More people should definitely reach out to their representatives. Make phone calls, send emails, or come to the Capitol and visit us. This is the people’s Capitol, you pay for it, and you can come talk to us anytime you like. That’s what we’re here for.”