Local state rep aims to make school safety inspections a requirement

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 6, 2021

 Lilliana Kerr was killed in 2017 after a table fell on her at a Head Start program. A bill known as “Lilliana’s Law” would require increased safety inspections in Michigan schools.

Lilliana Kerr was killed in 2017 after a table fell on her at a Head Start program. A bill known as “Lilliana’s Law” would require increased safety inspections in Michigan schools.

Photo provided by Tabatha Kerr

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COMMERCE TOWNSHIP — Trying to get a law passed that would prevent the type of incident that killed 3-year-old Lilliana Kerr has been difficult for her mom.

Lilliana’s mother, Tabatha Kerr, said the process has been “soul shattering.”

Lilliana Kerr was killed in 2017 by a table that fell on her at a Head Start program in Dearborn Heights.

“It’s been hard,” Tabatha Kerr said. “There’s times where I don’t sleep; there’s times I don’t eat. … I just learned in January of 2021 that there’s no national reporting system recording or analyzing these children’s injuries or deaths, and that reporting is voluntary. These children, my child, and an unknown number of children are classified as ‘never events.’”

According to the National Association of School Nurses’ website, “Preventable child mortality is classified as a never event,” with the association citing the Agency for Health Research and Quality as its source.

The “never event” classification does not sit well with Kerr.

“With ‘never events,’ I was so appalled,” she said. “Instead of calling our children accidents or never events, we need to be calling them predictable deaths and working on preventing this from happening to another child.”

The Michigan House Committee on Education recently approved a plan by state Rep. Ryan Berman to mandate annual health and safety inspections in Michigan schools.

Berman represents residents of Commerce Township and a portion of West Bloomfield, as well as Wixom and Wolverine Lake.

House Bill 4167 is known as “Lilliana’s Law.”

Berman’s intent is to get the bill on the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after what he hopes are successful passages in the House and Senate.

He anticipates the process will take “a few months, at the quickest.”

The bill would require an annual inspection for health and safety violations in all Michigan school buildings, including at charter schools and non-public schools.

According to a press release, the table that killed Kerr had been recalled and “should have been removed a decade prior.”

This is the third attempt to get the bill through, and the Michigan House is the furthest it has gotten.

Kerr’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by Berman.

“Tabatha Kerr has made it her mission to spread awareness for safety hazards in Michigan schools,” he said. “With all the inspections going on of restaurants and other facilities, there is no law that mandates that there’s school safety inspections. In fact, school buses have to have an annual safety inspection but not the school grounds themselves.”

Berman said his predecessor, Klint Kesto, first introduced the issue in 2018.

“He introduced it, and the Department of Health and Human Services came out against it because it would have an extra cost to them,” Berman said. “He was (going to) have the DHHS go around and inspect these schools. They anticipated costs upwards to maybe $3 million, which I think was way over-budgeted or -projected.”

DHHS Public Information Officer Lynn Sutfin shared the department’s perspective.

“We appreciate the feedback that Representative Berman has taken from the department on this bill; however, concerns remain regarding ability to implement its requirements,” she wrote via email

In a legislative analysis sent by one of Berman’s representatives, under the heading of fiscal impact, one section reads, “DHHS would have additional costs under House Bill 4167, estimated to be between $100,000 and $500,000.”

According to the analysis, “Costs would include development of guidelines and reporting systems for health and safety inspections of school premises and buildings, information technology systems, support, training, and a system for receipt and tracking of the inspection and follow-up reports for over 4,500 school buildings.”

Costs for intermediate school districts and public school academies were also referenced in the analysis, without providing specific numbers.

“House Bill 4167 would create an intermediate cost increase for ISDs, PSAs, and nonpublic schools to annually inspect all school premises, including each school building, for health and safety violations,” the analysis stated. “ISDs, PSAs, and nonpublic schools would incur costs to dedicate staff time, training, travel for inspections, follow-up notifications and reporting to carry out the bill’s requirements.”

Berman said there have been “many hurdles” along the way in efforts to try to progress the bill. Aside from cost, he discussed one of them.

“Superintendents and school board groups came out against this law,” Berman said. “When you think about it, what is the superintendent of a school district — their responsibility is the health, safety and welfare of students, and making sure their premises are in working order. … They just didn’t want that added responsibility. I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s your responsibility already; we’re just putting (it) into law.’”

From Kerr’s perspective, “hamburgers have better safety regulations than our children.”

“I’m trying to figure out how many children have died involving school property, what training needs to be done in each case to prevent this, and make sure another family does not have to bury their child, because our children deserve to come home the same way they were brought to school,” she said. “Obviously, there’s a personal, raw connection to what I’m doing, but this involves every person’s child. This isn’t just my fight for our children’s right to live injury-free on school property, but also yours, as well.”

Berman discussed his level of optimism about the bill’s chances of passing.

“I’m more confident than ever because of COVID,” he said. “Safety has been people’s No. 1 concern, no matter the cost. … With COVID relief funds, more money being given to schools and more money towards safety, I think that just plays right into it. Especially now, when you’re talking about getting kids back in school, putting up more barriers or plexiglass and things like that, we need this now more than ever.”

For more information, visit lillianaslaw.com.

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