Grand Prairie uses new technology to track bus rider

With the new school year underway, Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD) has dedicated itself to keeping students on their radar. One method the district has implemented is SMART tags that students have to swipe when they enter and exit school buses.

“It’s for safety and the ability to give more safety to our community,” said Melissa Callahan, administrative assistant for the GPISD transportation department and SMART Tag Trainer for the district.

The tags allows the school district to track the students’ whereabouts, create automated reports for the transportation department, and allow district officials to notify parents with information such as wait times and, in case of emergency, their child’s location.

Secured Mobility, a private technology company in Georgetown, Texas, developed the cards with radio frequency identification technology that works in cooperation with a cloud-connected tablet placed in each bus. When a student enters the bus and presents their tag, the tag provides a photo ID and student profile to the bus driver’s tablet, including the child’s bus stop.

If a child is missing, the system can be used to determine whether a student boarded a bus and exited at his or her school. The system can also prevent students from exiting the bus at the wrong stop and alert the driver if a student remains on the bus who should exit at a stop.

Parents can log into the SMART Parent Web Portal for information regarding their child’s transit as well as to quickly and easily change their registered home address, phone number, child’s stop and individuals authorized to pick up their child.

While the children’s ability to keep track of their tags raises a concern for some parents, the district has taken precautions against losses as well as the system’s ability to negatively impact transit for individuals and the student body.

The district will notify parents of students who fail to present their tags for three consecutive days. After three warnings for elementary students and two warnings for middle and high school students, these students will not be allowed to board buses in the afternoons. Parents may purchase new tags at the child’s campus. Students will be able to reach school on their morning buses without obstruction.

Students with their tags in hand will be allowed to board the bus first, in order to minimize wait times caused by those who misplace or lose their tags. Some teachers and principals are working with a two-tag system, so younger students can leave tags on their backpacks to minimize potential losses.

Text notifications of students’ boarding times, as well as an alert when the bus is 10-15 minutes from the child’s stop, are available to parents registered with the Parent Portal. A notification app is currently being developed.

The badge presents a child’s location only to the associated tag readers, so children cannot be tracked outside of the bus.

District bus drivers have already been using the tablets which can read the tags for years, as they aid in documentation such as maintenance requests and mileage reports. The Parent Portal has also been in use, allowing families to keep track of school and district news as part of a three-year pilot program the district is now completing.

Rosenburg Rodriguez has driven the district’s buses for five years and says the tags have been a blessing.

“It’s hard with the little kids because they have to scan the ID,” Rodriguez said. “On this route, I have maybe 50 kids, and half of them don’t have IDs.”

When the students don’t have their IDs, Rodriguez enters their names into the system manually. Though he knows their faces and tries to be quick, he says this process can delay him around 15 minutes, and obstruct traffic.

Kristin Ferris, president of the Parent Teacher Association at the Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy, says the SMART tags have been a blessing for her family, with four children ages 4-17.

“If they needed support. We [the PTA] would definitely be on board,” Ferris said. “It’s awesome.”