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Technology now tracks students for possible COVID exposure on school buses

Bus Guardian, a computerized tracking program designed by Indianapolis-based Synovia, helps determine which students and staff might have been exposed.

INDIANAPOLIS — As school districts across the country deal with confirmed cases of COVID-19, some schools are turning to technology to better track the virus.

Bus Guardian, a computerized tracking program designed by Indianapolis-based Synovia, uses old technology for a new purposes: it allows schools to determine which students and staff might have been exposed to coronavirus while riding a school bus.

“It's a tool that can help keep the kids safer on the buses and also communicates with parents should something happen,” said Bus Guardian Product Director Brad Bishop.

The tool relies on a scanner similar to those used by airlines when passengers present a boarding pass to board a flight. Buses equipped with Bus Guardian have a scanner by the door, and all students use a unique bar code on their school ID or cell phone to scan in each time they get on and off the school bus. If a student is later diagnosed with coronavirus, Bus Guardian allows the child’s school to then figure out which student passengers might have been exposed through contact tracing.

Credit: Synovia
Bus Guardian scanners work much like those used by airlines to board passengers.

“Contact tracing is knowing where that student got on the bus, where they got off the bus and who else was in that vicinity, so we can trace potential contact with other students,” Bishop told 13News. “It’s something our clients told us they wanted.”

The technology also lets school districts closely monitor the added sanitation procedures now required on all buses. When bus drivers sanitize a bus after each trip, that information is documented, stored and communicated in real time to the school’s transportation department.

Supplying technology to meet COVID demand

According to Synovia, Bus Guardian was developed as a direct response to COVID-19 and a need identified by school districts that already use the company’s GPS tracking system on school buses.

“If you asked me even six months ago if we’d have contact tracing, I’d have said ‘What is contact tracing, and why we would we have that?’” laughed Synovia spokesman Bryan Mitchell. “But here we are. This is what our customers asked for.”

Credit: Synovia
A student scans his student ID before leaving a school bus in Gilbert, AZ.

From Pennsylvania to Arizona, a growing number of school districts now use technology that can be used for contact tracing if there were to be an outbreak of COVID-19.

“We can see who was on the bus based on card swipe data, and combined with the seating chart, can know who they came into contact with,” explained Michael Miller, business manager for Eastern Lebanon County (PA) Schools, which utilizes student tracking scanners on all 42 school buses and vans that transport its students.

The computerized tracking tools are being promoted not simply as a way to keep students and bus drivers safe during the pandemic. They are also meant to give added peace of mind to parents – something Bishop can appreciate.

“I have five kids. We're all a little nervous to go back to school, to put kids on buses," he said. "I would say this is just one more element schools districts can put out there to help."

Synovia said its student tracking technology is now being used by more than 200 school districts across the country, but so far, not by any schools in Indiana. According to the company, a few Indiana school districts are currently testing the Bus Guardian tool to determine if they will use it in the future.

The cost is $15 per bus per month for the first year, jumping to $45 per bus per month for the remainder of a 5-year contract commitment, Bishop said.

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