Palos Heights tracks students on school buses

August 31, 2010 (PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill.) Scan cards attached to students' backpacks allow school officials to see when and where a student got on and off a school bus.

"I think it's wonderful. I think it's long overdue. I think that as a parent the safety of your child taking the bus is the number one concern," said Leslie Baudo, parent.

The system is called ZPass, a way for Palos Heights School District 128 to track hundreds of students who board buses every day.

When a child gets on or off the bus, this electronic reader card -- attached to a backpack -- registers date, time, and location information, relaying it to computers that can be viewed by school officials.

"Well, with my son, he was over an hour late a couple years ago, and you stand there and you wait, and you wait and you wait," said Baudo, parent.

"Every year we get phone calls from parents saying my child's not home yet - do you know if the bus is late or where they are? Now we can go on, punch in a number of that child, and see exactly where they are, if they're still on the bus or if they've gotten off the bus," said Kathleen Casey/Supt., Palos Heights School Dist. 128.

The system is designed to prevent situations like the one that occurred in west suburban St. Charles last week. A kindergarten student was temporarily lost after being dropped off at the wrong stop.

ZPass won't prevent a student from getting on the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong place, and it won't locate a child after he or she has left the bus -- but it does say where and when a student was dropped off.

"I just think it's a great way to utilize technology in this day and age. Everybody should be doing that," said Donna Pawlak, parent.

ZPass is costing the district $16,000, though officials say it's a one-time fee, and they hope to recover some of that cost through the state.

As for the kids, most seem oblivious to the new technology.

"I wish it was a yellow smiley face, not pink," said Joe Walsh, student.

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