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Pilot bus program would track Indian River County students

COLLEEN WIXON / Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers | September 9 2006

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The days of parents anxiously peering out the window, worrying because their youngster is late getting home from school, soon may be coming to an end.

A new program offered by Nexus Biometrics of Sarasota and now under consideration by the School Board would let parents check on a Web site whether a child had been dropped off at his bus stop or whether a bus was running late. It also would help officials know whether a bus driver was stopped along a road or had deviated from his regular route.

But board members, who listened to a presentation from the company at a Friday morning workshop, were lukewarm about the idea. While they said it was a good concept, board members hesitated because the program could require registering a child's fingerprints as a form of identification.
The district is considering a pilot program on two or three buses to try the idea out for one month. No date so far has been determined for the pilot program.

Board members said they wanted to know if parents would agree to the program before starting it.

"We need to let (parents) know upfront we are thinking of doing this," said Vice Chairman Craig McGarvey.

Board member Lenora Quimby said she had concerns.

"I'm very concerned about the whole 'Big Brother' issue," she said.

If approved, children on a bus route would register with the system at their school, Nexus Biometrics Chief Executive Officer Brad Baker told the board. Data then would be sent to a database and downloaded to each bus, he said. As each student boarded the bus, he would place his finger on a sensor attached to a cellular phone.

Baker said the system doesn't store a child's fingerprint, but a mathematical image of it, so the system recognizes the fingerprint.

If parents did not approve of the fingerprint system, the district could implement an identification card system, in which a child would swipe a card on the sensor instead. The downside to this program, Baker said, is cards can be lost or taken by someone else.

The pilot program is free to the district, Baker said. Estimated costs to set up the system after the pilot program is about $1,200 per bus, he said. Operating the system each year costs about $75 to $100 per bus, he said. The district has 98 buses.

So far, no district in the state has purchased the system, although Polk County is considering it, Baker said. Polk recently completed a three-month pilot program, he said.

Dan McIntyre, assistant superintendent of operations for the district, said the idea of the district getting such a program stemmed from a 1999 school bus accident, in which a child was killed after the bus driver ran a stop sign and the vehicle was hit by a tractor trailer.

District officials didn't have an accurate list of children who were on the bus at the time, McIntyre said. With the proposed system, the district would know who was on the bus and could notify parents, he said.


• Tracks students on wrong bus.

• Tracks bus driver stops and route changes.

• Allows parents to log on a Web site to check if a student has been dropped off at the bus stop or if the bus is running late.

• Can monitor whether the bus driver has completed end of the day duties, including checking for sleeping students still on the bus.


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