Hernando County considers tracking kids and buses

GPS and card swipe systems could be installed

It's going to take a lot convincing before Joeline Watson allows her 5-year--old son, William, to ride another bus in the Hernando County School district.

"I'm done. I'm absolutely done," Watson said.  

On Friday, the Ridge Manor resident patiently waited in the hot afternoon for her kindergartner to get off the school bus. But William never did. Watson later discovered he had been placed on the wrong bus and didn't return home for nearly two hours.

"My heart dropped. He's five. You can't do that to a parent," Watson said.

This wasn't the first incident involving Hernando school buses since school resumed two weeks ago. The district lost track of two other kids, including another 5-year-old who accidentally exited a bus and was taken home by a stranger.

In response to the growing concern about bus tracking, the School Board held a special workshop Tuesday to consider installing GPS devices on the buses and providing ID cards to children so they can be scanned each time they ride a bus.

"If a student gets on or off a bus that they're not supposed to, it immediately alerts the driver that that's what happened," said Douglas Compton, transportation director for Hernando County Schools.

In addition, the vendor providing the service, Synovia, said parents could find out whether their child got on board a bus using a smartphone app thanks to software tracking where the ID cards are swiped.

"Overall, I like it," said board member Cynthia Moore. But she questioned how often kids would lose their cards or swap them amongst themselves.

"I know they're going to switch back and forth," Moore said.

The cost for the service is $60,000 annually, but Synovia would provide it for free in the first year. That contrasts with the estimated $1.2 million it would cost to provide an actual person in the buses to supervise kids getting on and off.

If approved, Hernando's school district would be the first in Tampa Bay to have such a tracking system for students.

The School Board will review the proposal at their meeting in two weeks.

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