School Board discusses implementing bus pass system with location tracking for parents

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County School Board has approved the creation of a survey that will ask parents of students in the district their thoughts on implementing specialized bus passes.

Lyle Cox, executive director of human resources for Washington County School District, presented a high-tech proposal for busing concerns from a committee of parents, professionals and educators during a special meeting of the school board Monday evening.

The committee drafted the idea of a scannable bus pass that uses proximity to check a child in and out of the school bus with no swiping required. Parents who opt into an app could see when their child enters or leaves the bus and where the bus is.

“The thing we’re dealing with now … is we have new technologies,” Cox said. “The idea is: is the new technology or investment in the new technology a good option for us now with the changes that have been going on?”

The idea came from a parent on the committee after their first-grade student got off at the wrong bus stop on the first day of school. With hundreds of new students and a new bus driver, Cox said, it can be difficult to keep track of everyone.

Business Administrator Brent Bills discusses the idea of high-tech bus passes with the Washington County School Board, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

According to transportation coordinator Launi Harden, another parent called the school after her child was late getting home. The bus her child uses to get home was turned around when a few students realized they were on the wrong bus and needed to be returned to the school.

“The problem is, if there’s an emergency, we don’t know what children are on the bus,” Harden said.

Harden said one of the biggest uphill battles the project would face is fear from parents who think the district is “chipping” their children or who don’t want their kids tracked. For this reason, district business administrator Brent Bills said it would have to be an all-or-nothing response from parents.

Cox argued that if it requires 100% support from parents to implement the bus passes, there is no point in sending out the survey, adding that it would be almost impossible to successfully integrate bus passes without all of the kids’ participation and that it would require strong support from the board and schools.

Board member Terry Hutchinson during a Washington County School Board special meeting, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

The district has had a rocky history with bus pass implementation, Bills said, calling previous attempts a “catastrophe.” The biggest problem, he said, is when students forget to bring their passes and are unable to take the bus.

Other school districts with bus passes have implemented procedures for students who forget their bus passes, allowing them to board the bus in the mornings to avoid missing school but asking that their parents pick them up from school after classes end.

Now that Cox has the OK to begin work on the survey, the next step is to draft the questions and survey introduction. The survey could possibly include whether parents are interested in the investment, whether parents would like to opt in to app features like location services and what the procedure should be for kids who forget their passes.

The survey will primarily focus on parents with kids who ride the bus, with potential to expand districtwide.

“We need to get a feel for the appetite for parents with regard to this kind of technology,” Cox said.

The board will review the questions before they are sent out in the near future. The survey responses are expected to help the board gauge parent interest and help the district determine if there is a need for scannable bus passes.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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