Education

Lakewood schools pilot system to track kids boarding, exiting school bus

A student uses a Zpass when boarding or exiting the school bus.
A student uses a Zpass when boarding or exiting the school bus. Courtesy Zonar

Students at four Lakewood schools are testing a new bus rider identification system that officials in the Clover Park School District hope will increase student safety.

The district began a pilot program last week that includes students at Evergreen, Park Lodge and Tillicum elementary schools, as well as Mann Middle School.

Each student receives an identification card, called a ZPass, with their photo. Students also receive a lanyard or zip tie so the passes can be worn around the neck or attached to backpacks.

Each time a student gets on or off the bus, the student scans an electronic chip-embedded card, which transmits a time and GPS (global positioning system) location to the district’s transportation department. The readings can be reviewed in real time.

All Clover Park buses are already equipped with GPS and video recording equipment. Officials hope the ZPass will add another safety feature.

“Student safety is one of those things you look at in layers,” said Rick Ring, the district’s business services administrator. He said the ZPass adds “an enhancement, letting us know where students are when they are in our care.”

And that, in turn, should alleviate parents’ concerns, he said.

The system, sold by a Seattle company called Zonar, also offers a phone app for parents that allows them to see when their child boards or exits the bus, and where. The phone app isn’t part of the Lakewood pilot program.

Student safety is one of those things you look at in layers

Rick Ring, business services administrator

District transportation director Delphie Nielsen said students who want to ride the bus to a friend’s home should continue to follow district procedures, which asks parents to notify the transportation department and their school ahead of time.

And students who forget their pass are still welcome on the bus, she said. The driver documents the student’s name and communicates it to the school and the transportation department.

Nielsen said the district was prompted to look into the system in part by parents who have lived in school districts in other states where the system is in use.

Clover Park’s pilot program will run through the end of the school year. Then officials will evaluate how well it worked and consider expanding the system districtwide.

The pilot program is costing the district about $7,000, Ring said.

A districtwide expansion would cost about $50,000, including initial one-time equipment costs. Costs would be somewhat lower in subsequent years, Ring said.

The Zonar system is already in use in the Kent and Tacoma school districts. In Tacoma, 18 schools use it.

Tacoma began with a five-school pilot in the 2013-14 school year and has been expanding it annually, starting with schools with the most bus riders.

Kent began using the technology in September 2014. It’s currently in use only on buses transporting students to and from the Kent Valley Early Learning Center. A district spokesman said that a grant will allow GPS systems to become active on all buses by the end of this school year, but added that implementation dates for ID scanning have not been set.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Questions?

Call the Clover Park transportation department at 253-583-5494.

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