It's rare but it happens: a young elementary school student boards the wrong school bus, and their parents are left frantic when their child doesn't arrive home on time. It's a crisis that is often quickly rectified, but it's no less terrifying for families and frustrating for school officials.
Now, after decades with no solutions, a select few school districts are piloting a new school bus program — which involves identification cards for student riders and digital tablets for drivers — to make that journey to and from school a completely safe one.
"Our drivers were literally using printed-out directions and three-ring binders to keep track of student names."
"Our drivers were literally using printed-out directions and three-ring binders to keep track of student names, bus assignments, everything," Cheryl Dalton, director of transportation for Saratoga Springs School District in New York, told the Times Union. "Now, everything will be in the tablet so our drivers can pay attention to the road and not a stack of papers sitting nearby."
Here's how it'll work: kids scan their ID cards as they enter and exit the school bus, which provides automatic updates to parents and alerts drivers when a student boards the wrong bus or if a student is missing. There will be far fewer guessing games to play when trying to determine children's whereabouts, which improves both safety and efficiency.
For those skeptical of privacy implications, fear not. No personal information will be stored on the cards.
"I know parents have had those questions, so they should know it's not like putting a chip in somebody's skin or something," Dalton said of the new program, which is being tested by 25 other school districts around the nation. "It's not a GPS on a child. Its only use is to the card reader. It would have no use if some stranger picked it up off the ground."
If this program keeps one child safe, it'll be worth it. Here's hoping the test drive is a success and more schools adopt this remarkable new bus system soon.