Parents like bus tracking, but have privacy concerns

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Student privacy was a top priority in a recent survey on a potential school bus-tracking program for parents, as compiled by Isle of Wight County Schools.

While parent response was overwhelmingly in favor of a bus-tracking program, some responses to the survey expressed concern about public access to the program, while others claimed that the money to buy the program could be better used elsewhere. 

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Another response claimed that allowing parents to track a school bus could cause a safety hazard if their child had missed it and the parent was trying to catch up to it on the road.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Jim Thornton said that, because of the overwhelming positive response from parents, the division would be pursuing a bus-tracking system in the school budget.  

The survey — which Isle of Wight County Schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs said was the most popular survey she’s ever conducted for Isle of Wight County schools  — found that 97.1 percent of 1,363 participants would use a GPS bus-tracking app if it were free.

Comparatively, 93.3 percent of 1,357 participants said that they actually have students that ride the bus, and at least one comment submitted through the survey stated that a parent would allow their child to take the bus if a tracking aspect was added. 

Concerns that parents raised involved how public a tracking app of this kind might be and what types of capabilities it would have. 

Eric Cooprider, director of IT and network services for Isle of Wight County Schools, said that the transportation department wouldn’t purchase a bus GPS system unless it was secure from public view. 

Cost estimates for a bus tracking system range from $5,500 to $12,000 per year, and capabilities vary depending on the program selected, according to staff. 

Suffolk Public Schools Director of Transportation Beverly Young said that the Suffolk Public School buses use a GPS program called Parent Portal that allows parents who have registered to view their child’s bus on an online map.  

According to Young, 3,589 parents have signed up for the utility, compared to the school’s total enrollment — 14,265, or 25 percent — according to data released by the division last November.

Young said that the utility gives parents peace of mind about where their child’s bus is located, approximate arrival times and has reduced phone calls to the school’s transportation department about bus schedules. 

On cons, Young said that when one bus is swapped out with another, the tracking program will show a child’s regular bus far off the route if that bus is on another route, out on a field trip or other school- or sports-related route. 

The Suffolk utility is restricted to parents of the student and bus tracking is only possible during a certain timeframe that relates to their child or children riding the bus.

Registration and log in to the Parent Portal website require confidential information about the child, according to Young. 

Newport News Public Schools employs a bus-tracking system called “Here Comes the Bus.” The system allows parents to see the real time location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that the bus has arrived at its destination and can send cell phone notifications or emails when the bus is a certain distance from the bus stop, according to Newport News Public Schools.

Isle of Wight County Schools Spokesperson Lynn Briggs said that it was too early in the process to determine how much the app would cost, what it would look like or when it will be financed by the school division.   {/mprestriction}