DENVER - Every morning 7-year-old Ezekiel Brown boards the school bus near his home in Park Hill and rides several miles, with stops at different schools, before arriving at University Prep Elementary. His mother, Yolanda, says knowing his whereabouts is a big deal.
"With him being the baby (youngest of three children), there was still apprehension; is he going to be okay on the bus?" Yolanda Brown said.
Now, he and other young students across the district will have a new safeguard to keep parents and district officials aware of where children are while riding the school bus.
"It's about knowing where our students are and where they're travelling to and what bus they might be on at that time, "Brandon Edelman, DPS Transportation Communication Specialist, said.
For the 2013-14 school year, Denver Public Schools will use the +-Pass, a GPS tracking system. Every student riding the school bus will have a RF-enabled identification card which will be scanned when they get on and off the bus. The system will provide real-time data to parents and school officials of who is riding the busses.
"You just have to push it on the scanner and it lets you know that you're good to go when it turns green," Ezekiel said.
Parents like Yolanda Brown will be able to log in through the district's Parent Portal to find out the status of their students.
"Knowing where my child is, is super important and knowing that is priceless," Brown said. "Peace of mind allows you to be able to rest at night."
Is this GPS-tracking system too Big Brother?
"The students are only having the time, date, and location that they enter and exit the bus recorded," Edelman said. "There are no school readers located on campus."
Edelman says with young students like Ezekiel boarding school busses all around Metro area, safety is priority.
"If a student does get on the wrong bus, by chance, we will be able to know which bus that student is on by simply logging into the system," Edelman said.
The +Pass system cost the district about $840,000, but Edelman says some of that cost is being offset by a grant.
"This is not an expensive program," Edelman said. "Really, it's going to help us build more efficient service routes that will save money for the district in terms of better using our resources."
The +Pass system will not indicate if a student is on the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong stop. Edelman says that will still be the bus driver's responsibility.
"Our drivers do know our students. So, if it is an unfamiliar face on that bus, they are still going to go through their safety procedures to insure that everyone is accounted for," Edelman said. "This is just to give that peace of mind and quicker response."
When Brown thinks about her son, Ezekiel, riding the school bus across town, seeing him scanned safely on and off the bus each day is a relief.
"The thought of that for me would be overwhelming, not knowing where my son is," Brown said.
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