Local agencies in Virginia must accept text messages to 911 under a recently passed law that was the brainchild of four Centreville High School students.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. George L. Barker (D-Alexandria), emerged as part of a U.S. government class assignment at the Northern Virginia school.
Students worked in pairs to identify and craft proposals that address problems in the state. This school year, two groups joined forces after proposing identical 911 texting bills. The bill easily cleared the Senate and House and was signed last month by Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
For Daniel Strauch, one of the students who lobbied for the legislation, the project marked an awakening — he said he wasn’t all that politically engaged or interested before.
“It definitely has inspired me and changed how I feel about my government,” he said.
Strauch spearheaded the legislation alongside fellow high school seniors Arko Mazumder, Thu Le and Rodolfo Faccini.
Mazumder, 17, tracked the legislation as it wound through the General Assembly. The experience, which included testifying in front of lawmakers, helped him gain public speaking confidence and showed how he could take a role in government, he said.
“I’m seeing it all unfold in such a spectacular way,” Mazumder said.
For nearly a dozen years, Centreville government teachers have selected a handful of the most viable proposals and shared them with Barker. The lawmaker selects one each year to introduce as legislation.
In an earlier interview, Barker said he was drawn to the 911 texting bill because of its relative simplicity, affordability and the difference it could make in people’s lives, including those with hearing impairments.
A few bills pioneered by Centreville students have become law, including one that required seat belts for children and another that raised penalties for texting while driving.