As school districts and safety leaders are in the midst of back-to-school season, there are new considerations to ensure that all students and transportation departments are well equipped for this school year. With the new COVID-19 Delta variant inciting a nationwide surge amongst children and an overall shortage of bus drivers, school district and safety leaders are responsible for far more than following the usual routes. Traditional school buses are undergoing technological advancements to keep passengers protected; however, security precautions of student data must be prioritized when managing these renovated connected vehicles.

Here are the top technology advancements being implemented in school transportation departments to keep students safe on their ride to and from school.

Equip school buses with stop-arm cameras

According to the National Association for Pupil Transportation, a yellow school bus is the safest way for children to get to and from school, more so than walking or traveling by car. However, there is still an average of 15 school transportation accidents each year. While drivers are required by law to make a full stop behind school buses as indicated by the stop arms, many motorists ignore this law to get an edge up on their commute.

Based on the Annual National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services survey, during the 2018-2019 school year, there were over 17 million stop-arm violations throughout the country. Today, there are integrated stop-arm camera solutions to record the actions of stop-arm violators and automatically notify law enforcement, who will then issue citations. Some of these solutions come at no cost to school districts, as the fines cover the technology fees. This technology gives community drivers a reason to follow the laws and drive carefully around school buses.

Implement RFID and GPS capabilities

Schools are integrating ridership verification solutions to ensure that children are not only on the right bus, but getting off at the right stop by putting rider information into the hands of the driver via tablet or mobile app through RFID and GPS capabilities. As riders scan their entry and exit from the bus with RFID cards, the bus driver gets immediate data to confirm it is the right student, right bus and right stop. Parents have complete control to view their child’s information. This information also supports contact tracing strategies if a student comes in contact with or tests positive for COVID-19.

Multi-factor authentication protects personal data alongside technology specifically designed to anonymize student data. The technology uses unique access codes that are issued to the guardian contact of each student and allows them to view information through secure and password-protected mobile applications. This technological advancement allows parents and schools to easily track school bus progress on the route. Knowing students' whereabouts throughout their travel is an added safety feature that gives parents peace of mind. With this GPS feature, parents can get timely updates and track where the bus is, while keeping the student’s information secure.

Minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other health risks

No longer does the common runny nose just warrant a trip to the nurse’s office. Now that experts have confirmed how easily the Delta variant can affect children, sanitization in school transportation is critical. While parents and teachers encourage and enforce social distancing guidelines and mask wearing, school districts and bus drivers need to enact vehicle safety checks before and after trips to minimize the spread of the virus while kids are boarding and stepping off the bus.

Electronic Verified Inspection Reporting (EVIR) systems streamline the process of following sanitization procedures by documenting which areas are sanitized, at what time, and by whom. This technology also helps drivers maintain a cleaning routine and document the particular disinfectant used while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. By tagging the areas that need to be sanitized, the driver can physically scan each tag once the area is cleaned, adding evidence and notes to each inspection.

With the data that comes from these inspections, it’s still critical that transportation departments consider the security aspects of the technology. Time stamps, photos, notes and inspection results are all uploaded into a fleet management platform that is exclusively available to district transportation directors. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are also placed in inspection zones on the vehicle, digitally linking that vehicle to confirm that the vehicle’s identity associated information is loaded. This data should remain secure in the hands of district transportation directors to ensure no outside source can track the vehicle.

Funding for school reopening efforts

School districts throughout the country are receiving billions of dollars in government resources for district transportation directors to pay for these technological and safety advancements. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the last few months, the Biden administration released $81 billion of $122 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to assist with the costs of safe reopening measures and address the academic, social and emotional needs of students. The CDC also awarded $10 billion to states and jurisdictions to support COVID-19 testing for school staff. Transportation directors are hoping that a percentage of the funding will go towards school district-provided transportation with the end goal to safely get students to and from school.

This year’s back-to-school season looks a little different, considering the state and federal COVID-19 mandates and that children under 12 are still unable to get vaccines, as of this article’s publication. Regardless, school districts and security leaders should do their part to ensure the safety and security of students and their personal data– and that often starts with the ride to and from school on the yellow school bus. As technology advances, stop-arm cameras, RFID and GPS tools and proper electronic inspections can assist in keeping our children safe this school year.