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    Ryces join push for school safety

    The parents of a boy murdered after getting off a school bus back a program to enhance student protections.

    By DIANE RADO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Their son went to school one day, rode home on the bus and vanished.

    Less than a half mile from his house, 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped, raped and murdered after getting off alone at his bus stop in suburban Miami in September 1995.

    His parents, Don and Claudine Ryce, believe their son might be alive today if better safety programs were in place at Florida schools.

    "It's been over five years (since Jimmy's death), said Don Ryce. "We still do not have a coordinated approach in this state to keep our kids safe. It's outrageous."

    At an emotional news conference Thursday, the Ryces joined Education Commissioner Charlie Crist to push for legislation that would enhance safety programs at Florida schools. Crist wants state-paid "audits" of safety conditions in school districts and expanded use of toll-free hot lines that allow anonymous reports of safety concerns.

    The "Safe Passage Act" is a top priority of Crist, and he is worried that it is moving too slowly through the Legislature. With half the session over, the bill still has seven committees to clear before votes in the House and Senate.

    Now, Crist has support from the Ryces, who, since their son's death, have pushed for laws that help find missing children and keep sexual predators behind bars.

    Claudine Ryce said Thursday that she didn't like her son getting off the bus alone at a busy intersection. A bus stop "is a prime hunting ground for pedophiles," she said.

    Why couldn't the bus drop Jimmy off in front of his house, which was on the bus route? She asked Miami-Dade school officials to change the stop, but no one did anything. The third person she spoke to at the school district hung up on her, Mrs. Ryce said.

    Crist said his school safety audits could lead to recommendations that would prohibit buses from stopping in places where only one child is dropped off.

    Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami, and Rep. John Carassas, R-Belleair, are sponsoring the legislation. Silver said one problem has been that school boards fear they will be sued if safety audits uncover problems.

    The bill also has controversial elements. The House version would designate schools as "persistently dangerous" if they fail to enact certain safety and security practices for two years in a row. Students would be allowed to transfer to another school. Crist said he is willing to back off from that provision.

    The Senate version originally allowed for criminal penalties if an adult failed to report threats to school safety to the hot line. That provision was dropped.

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