VUSD rolls out high-tech bus tracking system

(Vasyl / AdobeStock)

Visalia Unified School District readies to roll out out the Stopfinder app, which will allow parents to monitor their child’s school bus routes

VISALIA – Visalia Unified School District is in its final phases of rolling out a brand-new, high-tech way for VUSD schools and parents to enhance children’s safety through the Stopfinder app.

The app ensures that children get on the right bus and get off at the correct bus stop, and allows parents to see, in real-time, when their child arrives at school. The app will also enhance the district’s ability to alert parents to foggy day schedules, route changes and driver changes.

Erik Kehrer, Chief Operations Officer for VUSD, said the decision to develop the program came about as a result of focusing on the safety of the district’s thousands of daily bus riders. He noted that on forms of travel like airplanes, each passenger is accounted for, whereas school buses are typically tracked by routes, meaning the district had no guaranteed way of knowing if students were boarding their respective bus.

“We also didn’t have a great way to communicate with parents in real-time. We looked at different platforms and Stopfinder is the one we selected,” Kehrer said, noting that prior to this program, the district wasn’t always clear on whether students were getting on the right bus or getting off at the right stop, creating potential for safety issues.

But with Stopfinder , the app provides parents with the ability to see exactly where a particular bus is on its route, helping to ensure that a child who is being picked up at a bus stop is met at the right time.

The app will also notify parents when there is a bus number change or when a bus is delayed and provides a way for parents to communicate with the transportation office. It also allows parents to assign a sub-subscriber so that caretakers and other family members who might have part-time care responsibilities have access to the information.

The implementation of the program was pushed off to Spring 2024 after the district launched a pilot program last year. Initially, the district provided the program for special needs riders. Kehrer explained that targeting those students to test the system gave facilities a good look at how the program would function and where some potential problems might lie.

“The implementation showed us some gaps that we found in our student information system where our data wasn’t as complete as it needed to be,” Kehrer said. “We realized that this was going to take some time, because we had some work to do.”

Among the complexities that were discovered during the app’s implementation were variances that naturally exist in the student population. For example, Kehrer noted there can be situations where a child lives with one parent part-time and spends the rest of their time with another parent, and would therefore need to have multiple routes assigned.

To implement Stopfinder , VUSD has issued new student identification cards that include an RFID chip. When a student boards a bus, they scan their ID card and their photo shows up on the driver’s tablet. This allows the driver to know the student is on the right bus, something the district did not have in the past.

Kehrer said that drivers can also access a student’s profile should they happen to forget or lose their card.

“The driver has the ability to pull up their roster and manually tap their student onto the bus,” Kehrer said.

Data for the program is drawn from PowerSchool software, which is used by numerous school districts to enhance the use of data. PowerSchool uses robust security measures to prevent unauthorized access to the data by hackers to further protect children from predators.

“This is all vetted. When we take a new software, it goes to our tech teams to make sure all of the data is protected,” Kehrer said.

Currently, Kehrer said that the district is working on outreach right now to encourage parents to download the Stopfinder app and register their information. He added that each student will have an assigned route to make sure that each student gets on the correct bus.

“The part of the implementation we are on right now is really about outreach to really reinforce asking parents to help remind their kids to use their student IDs to scan on and off the bus,” Kehrer said. “It’s also an opportunity for them to, if they don’t have the Stopfinder app, please download it. This will give parents so much more information that you never knew about your child riding the bus.”

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