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School District 128 Using New Technology To Keep Tabs On Bus Riders

School District 128 in Palos Heights has installed the new ZPass tracking system on school buses. The system allows school officials to track when and where students board and exit buses.

It's the first day of school. Your child has new supplies, a new teacher and probably a new bus route. The fear of a child getting on the wrong bus, or not getting off at the right stop is very real for many parents.

School District 128 in Palos Heights hopes to alleviate that anxiety through the installation of a new scanner on school buses carrying children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"We can now go online and look and see if the child got off the bus and where," said Dr. Kathleen Casey, superintendent of Dist 128. "We can track the students and the buses down to the minute."

The system is called ZPass and is currently in place in just 26 school districts nation wide. District 128 is just the second in Illinois to utilize the technology.

Every student who rides the bus has a card with an identification number  connected to his or her backpack. As the students enter or exit the bus, a scanner registers the time and location.  The time, location and student's name are all sent in real-time to a secure database located at each school. The buses will also be equipped with a GPS system that allows administrators to pinpoint their exact location.

By knowing when a student boards or exits a bus, and what the location of that bus is, administrators hope to be able to relay that information to parents more efficiently if problems arise.

" It was a very small cost that would allow us to improve the safety of our children," Casey said. "It was an investment in safety."

The cost of the technology was $16,000. The district expects to be reimbursed by the State of Illinois for almost half of that amount when transportation claims are filed, Casey said.

Some parents say the added security goes a long way in giving them peace of mind.

"I think as a parent the safety of your children taking the bus is your number one concern," said Leslie Baudo.

Baudo's children are currently in the seventh and fourth grades. She recounted a time when her son Anthony was an hour late arriving home from school.

"You call and you just have to wait," Baudo said.

With the new technology in place, administrators will immediately be able to tell parents when and where their child exited the bus.

Casey discovered the new tracking system while looking through an educational technology magazine. She had no idea the technology was so new and only in use in select school districts.

Officials from Illinois School Bus, which owns and operates the district's buses, were also eager to embrace the new technology.

"We pride ourselves on being on the forefront of new technology," said Tom O'Sullivan, vice president of operations for Illinois School Bus' parent company Cook-Illinois Corporation. "It is just another safety measure and we couldn't be happier."

In the first two days of classes there have been no problems with the new system and the usually high number of calls from concerned parents has significantly decreased, school officials said.  

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