Connected School Buses to Deliver Smarter (and Safer) Students

Wi-Fi equipped school buses with safety and security in mind

by Ken Hosac

The safety of our children is top of mind for many schools and parents across the nation. As schools rethink and take new steps to better protect students, improving safety on school buses is becoming a big part of the equation, and for good reason. Every day, nearly 480,000 school buses carry more than 25 million students to and from school, activities and class trips.

Lawmakers are also getting in on the act by re-evaluating school bus safety standards. In recent weeks, school bus seatbelt safety legislation was introduced by both the U.S. House and Senate on Sept. 12. The School Bus Safety Act, H.R. 6773 would require several improvements to school buses. In addition to automatic emergency braking systems, event data recorders and electronic stability control (ESC), the bill requires school buses to provide three-point seatbelts, which data shows are far superior to standard lap belts in saving lives.

As lawmakers work to make strides forward with advances in seatbelts, school districts are also improving the safety and security of students with innovative technology and applications on school buses.

Wi-Fi on Buses = More Learning + Safety

For Bill Brown, executive director of education technology services for Greenville County Schools (GCS) in South Carolina, improving safety came as a bonus with the installation of Wi-Fi on a fleet of buses to improve learning. After a high school junior council member proposed that Wi-Fi could increase academic achievement and lower behavioral problems that arise on buses, Brown wrote a proposal and received grant funding offered by the State.

GCS had delivered 19,000 Chromebooks to their students with plans for an additional 38,000 Chromebooks over the next two years that would put one in the hands of each student in grades three through 12. To take full advantage of the Chromebooks, GCS needed a robust and reliable network solution to install Wi-Fi on the buses so the students could access their schoolwork over their Chromebooks or personal devices on the bus.

They deployed cloud-managed routers with integrated 4G-LTE in their fleet of 425 buses, which provides the connection between the bus and the internet. With a maximum of 77 students per bus, they gave students up to 28,000 hours of additional instruction time.

Safety First Strategies Benefit Students, Bus Drivers and Parents

While the original intent was to take advantage of time the students spent traveling home and extend the classroom environment as if they never left their desks, Wi-Fi on buses opens new ways to monitor buses through GPS tracking, monitoring the safety of students, bus drivers, and potentially thwarting threatening situations.

For instance, GCS now has live stream cameras on buses that give them visibility into buses from a central location. Previously, if something went wrong, a supervisor or police officer had to be dispatched depending on the urgency. Now they can assess the situation remotely and if necessary, determine who to send out via the cloud management capabilities.

The technology has allowed Greenville County Schools to collect GPS data, which is transmitted back to the offices with a mapping application. This gives them the ability to create geographic boundaries with geo-fencing, so alerts are sent back if a school bus leaves the county. Another useful benefit is the ability to provide route by route instructions for bus driver substitutes.

In addition to being able to remotely monitor buses, bus drivers now have a silent panic button. In the event of an emergency situation, they can discreetly tap it and walk away, alerting law enforcement immediately. And if less serious behavior problems arise among students, drivers can escalate issues by alerting school principals who can later choose to handle any problems directly with the student.

Innovative schools like GCS are taking steps to improve safety for students and drivers while on the road. While school is out of session during summer, it’s a great time for IT directors to reevaluate safety and security needs across the district and take steps to implement innovative technologies, such as Wi-Fi on school buses, that not only enable more learning, but offer peace of mind for everyone.

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