New Technology Aims to Bring Security and Transparency to the School Bus

School districts are evaluating the merits of adding GPS, surveillance cameras and more to their buses.

When it comes to advances in school-bus technology, they tend to trickle rather than gush into the mainstream. While car manufacturers are tinkering with connected and self-driving vehicles, the manufacturers of school buses are just now getting on board with GPS tracking.

The main intent of equipping school buses with technology is to allow parents to track where their children are and to verify they boarded the bus. In Rockford, Ill., the city’s school district rolled out a GPS solution along with electronic swipe cards that are linked to each student, according to a report from the Associated Press:

Children swipe electronic cards as they get on and off the buses, and that's allowed school officials to tell worried parents where their kids are with the click of a computer mouse. It's helping dispatchers keep tabs on buses during snow storms and see if drivers are getting to their stops on time. District officials are even using the systems to analyze ridership numbers, route speeds and idle times to make their systems more efficient.

Amber Miller, the principal of Johnson Elementary School in Rockford, said that was useful in a case where a parent was confused about whether their child was going to ride the bus or needed to be picked up.

“The parent didn't know where the student was,” Johnson said. “I called. They used the system and saw the student got on the bus, and we were able to tell the parents the child was safe.”

Concerns about safety and security have also led other school districts to install cameras on buses to protect students from reckless drivers who ignore the stop sign that flips out from the side of the bus. The Augusta Chronicle reports that the Clarke County School District in Athens, GA, is rolling out a video-camera system that snaps pictures and records video of drivers who ignore a bus’s stop sign.

The issue is of particular concern because Georgia ranks third on a list that tracks the number of students killed at bus stops, according to Carlton Allen, director of pupil transportation for the Georgia Department of Education. Allen and his staff made the decision to invest in the surveillance technology after learning that other school districts had installed cameras on buses and, as a result, had seen a significant drop in stop-sign violations.

Snowstorms Lead Boston Public Schools to Take Action

Snowstorms are of particular concern to most parents, especially when schools have to close early due to inclement weather. After 2010’s “Snowmaggedon,” the city of Boston decided to turn the challenges it faced in getting students home into a “call to action,” reports Government Technology.

Working through a 2011 Code for America fellowship, the city built the “Where’s My School Bus” web app. Although there were initial concerns about authenticating and accessing student data, Boston Public Schools and the app’s development team were able to come to an agreement and launch the pilot app.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, and the school district is already working on app enhancements, including travel-time estimates.

“Our hope for parents is that in a small way this is making their day-to-day experience better, and over time, making it even easier to engage with the district as a whole,” says Chris Osgood, co-chair of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics for the city of Boston, in the Government Technology story.

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Jan 24 2014

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