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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

New app tracks Spokane students on their school bus

A young rider gets on a bus at the Spokane Public Montessori on West Knox Avenue in north Spokane Monday, Oct. 11, 2016, with a “Z pass” electronic card hanging from her backpack. The card passes a sensor on the dashboard of the bus and checks her in for the ride home. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A young rider gets on a bus at the Spokane Public Montessori on West Knox Avenue in north Spokane Monday, Oct. 11, 2016, with a “Z pass” electronic card hanging from her backpack. The card passes a sensor on the dashboard of the bus and checks her in for the ride home. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

By next spring parents of Spokane school children will be able to use their smartphones to see when and where their children got on and off the school bus.

Spokane Public Schools is implementing Z Pass, a program which checks students on and off school buses. Parents can then see on their cellphones or computer where their children last were.

“I am thrilled about this opportunity to increase safety and communication for families,” said Shannon Lawson, the principal of Spokane Public Montessori.

Spokane Public Montessori, along with the Libby Center are the two schools testing the system, said district spokesman Kevin Morrison.

“From a parent standpoint it gives them that additional peace of mind,” Morrison said.

The system, which cost the district about $75,000, tracks the pick up and drop-off point and time of each student using the app. Students check in to the bus using an electronic chip-embedded card. The card has a Z pass identification number, but doesn’t have the student’s name or photograph, said Mark Sterk, the director of safety, risk management and transportation for the school district.

In addition to the system cost, the district spent about $5,000 on carabiners and card holders, Sterk said. If a student loses their card they can still ride the bus and the district will replace the card for free. However, if a student continues to lose the card they may be asked to pay for the replacement, Sterk said.

The district started researching Z Pass about a year ago. Now, if a student doesn’t get off at their bus stop the district can see where, or if, they checked onto the bus. Sterk said this will increase safety and, if necessary, speed up a missing persons search.

“No one likes that feeling of not knowing where that child is,” Sterk said.

An additional benefit of the program, Sterk said, is it will allow the district to better evaluate where buses are traveling and how bus routes might need to change.

“We are really excited about this,” he said. “It’s a terrific tool, not only for us but for the parents too.”

Spokane Public Schools is the first district in Eastern Washington to implement Z Pass. All district schools will have the program by the end of this academic year.

Starting after Christmas, special education students will use the system, elementary, middle and high schools will follow.

Spokane Public Montessori started using the app last week. The Libby Center implemented the app three weeks ago. Currently 460 students are using Z pass, Sterk said. Some parents had trouble using the app at first due to a district clerical error that has been fixed.

The app has been particularly useful at Spokane Public Montessori because, as an option school, it has limited transportation options, Lawson said. About 300 of the school’s 460 students ride the bus.

“This allows us that sense of security,” she said. “We at least know where the last point was.”

Z Pass is sold by a Seattle company called Zonar. According to its website Z Pass transmits pick up and drop off data to a secure server where it can be accessed by parents and the district.

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