New gadget will help track Fayette school children who ride buses

jwarren@herald-leader.comAugust 13, 2012 

  • Fayette public schools start Wednesday

    Fayette County Public Schools officials offered these tips to help the first day of school go more smoothly:

    ■ Take some time Tuesday night to sit down with your child and plan for Wednesday morning. Pick the clothes your child will wear; get the child's backpack ready; decide whether to take lunch or buy it at school.

    ■ Remember that schools have dress codes and some items your child has been wearing over the summer might not be appropriate. Flip-flops, for example, are not allowed in Fayette schools.

    ■ Allow extra time Wednesday morning. Get to your child's bus stop early and be patient because buses sometimes run a bit late on opening day. If you drive your child 10 school, leave a little early because traffic will be heavy and travel times long. A lot of other people will be driving to school, too.

Fayette County school buses will carry a new electronic feature this year designed to help district officials and parents keep closer track of elementary students going to and from school.

The electronic ID system will help provide quick answers in worrisome situations when, for whatever reason, a young child fails to get off the school bus at his or her assigned stop, said Ketsy Fields, an elementary school director with the Fayette district.

"From our understanding, we're the only school system in Kentucky that will be using it," said Marcus Dobbs, associate transportation director for the Fayette school system.

The ID feature uses the Zonar system that Fayette County Schools began installing on all its buses last school year. The GPS-like system tracks and provides information such as location of school buses at all times and the speeds at which they're traveling.

This year, the school district is adding a new twist to the Zonar system that also will keep track of young kids on school buses. When a child steps on the bus, the electronic system will operate through Zonar to record the child's presence and identity and send that information to a data base within seconds.

When a child steps off the bus, the system also will record when and where the youngster left the vehicle.

If there's any question later as to where the child is, district officials can check the system database to determine whether the child got on the proper bus and when and where he or she got off.

Parents, however, won't be able to check the system themselves.

The system is designed for elementary students, not older children.

"It gives us a permanent record to help us," Dobbs explained. "In the past, if a parent called looking for a child who hadn't arrived home, the school could say that they put him on the right bus."

However, "with maybe 70 kids on the bus, the driver might have trouble remembering if the child was actually there or where he got off.," Dobbs said. "Now, we can check and tell the parent, yes, he got off at his correct stop. If he hasn't arrived home, is it possible he went to a friend's house or something?"

As in previous years, Fayette elementary students who ride buses to school will be issued color-coded bus tags that help guide them to the proper bus. This year, however, each child will get a tag accompanied by personalized radio-frequency ID card.

When a child gets on the bus, he or she will swipe the ID card at an electronic scanner located at the front of the bus. It will instantly record the student's identity and presence on the bus. The rider will then repeat the process when leaving bus so that the system can record that he or she is no longer on board.

Children will be instructed to attach their tags and ID cards to a loops on their backpacks for easy access, Dobbs said.

"We've been using the paper tag system for several years. But we were looking for a way to make it better, and this seemed like an interesting approach," Dobbs said.

While the system may be an advance, there are some things it can't do yet.

For example, it can't sound an alarm to instantly alert the driver if a child accidentally gets off at the wrong stop.

"Technology has not caught up with that at this point," Dobbs said. "And even if it had, it would be very expensive to install in buses."

Fayette elementary students will receive their new bus tags and electronic ID cards at their respective schools starting Wednesday.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.

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