Students will swipe their ID as they board, disembark school buses.
School-bus riding students in Sarasota County next academic year will likely swipe an ID card as they board and disembark to document when and where they arrived on their trips to school and back home again.
Sarasota School Board on Feb. 1 unanimously approved a $397,830 contract with Trapeze Software Group of Delaware to provide 321 bus-installed card readers/keypads, “ruggedized” computer tablets and mounting hardware.
Jody Dumas, the district’s chief operating officer, told school board members schools already use some form of bar-coded ID card for their students, but the addition of the bus card reader system will allow for new capabilities beyond checking out a book at the library or swiftly moving through the lunch line.
“We have had schools throughout the district use student ID cards for a number of years, but it has not been a coordinated effort," Dumas said. “And so, what we’ve been trying to do is create a student ID that’s standardized throughout the district, which can be customized for each school. But that student ID will have a bar code on it that can be used multiple times a day."
Dumas said the use of the standardized IDs will introduce a new level of safety and security for students who ride buses. Bus movements are already tracked in real time through a GPS-based system, he said. With the additional data of when a student boards a bus and when that student steps off the bus, it will be easier to ensure students are where they are supposed to be. The cards are not trackers and will only log the student's presence when they swipe the card.
“Way back when, I was a director of transportation, and the most frightening moments in my life as a director were the first couple of weeks of school, when the bus drivers do not know students and we have all those little ones on buses, and we’re trying to get them home in the evening," Dumas said. “And God forbid we drop them somewhere we’re not supposed to."
Part of the same technology will also allow drivers to receive updated route information directly to a computer tablet. Dumas said drivers who are being assigned to cover a portion of another route in the case of a driver absence can receive the new turn-by-turn route immediately instead of having to check in with someone in the transportation office.
“If there is a sub bus driver, they’ll know that route exactly through the tablet on the bus," Dumas said.
The contract calls for the purchase and installation of the hardware for the buses and the operating software, plus a year of maintenance for both systems.
Dumas said Fruitville Elementary is already among the district’s schools using deeper student ID technology. Principal Steven French part of a districtwide effort to roll out that technology, Dumas said.
“I think this is a great idea because anything we can do to enhance parents knowing where a child is if there is a problem or an issue, the better," school board chair Jane Goodwin said.
Dumas reminded the school board members about the district’s Where’s the Bus app, which tracks school buses themselves around the county, similar to the way a ride-hailing app shows a user where their approaching car is. The idea, he said, is to be able to know which students are aboard which buses, and where those buses are as they progress along their routes.
School board member Karen Rose said she supported the program and asked if the funding for the contract had been built into the district’s capital plan. Dumas said it had been budgeted for last year and there had been a delay in actually moving to purchase the equipment.
He said the district's goal was to have the new system implemented for the new school year.
“I very much would have appreciated it at 9 o’clock at night when a student didn’t get on the bus and went home with someone else," Rose said of the system.
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