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Thursday, August 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Spokane parents can now track their kids on school bus

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 14, 2018, 7:33 a.m.

Rhonda McLellan, assistant general manager for Durham School Services, demonstrates the Z-Pass, a card that automatically logs students’ entry and exit when they pass a scanner on the school bus. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Rhonda McLellan, assistant general manager for Durham School Services, demonstrates the Z-Pass, a card that automatically logs students’ entry and exit when they pass a scanner on the school bus. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

As it turned out, Thursday morning was the perfect time to show off the latest in school bus technology.

Spokane roads were icy in spots, but not as slick as the software at Durham School Services, the transportation provider for Spokane Public Schools and several other districts.

The most significant is the Z-Pass, a small card that students swipe as they enter and leave the bus. The information is instantly and securely uploaded to parents’ devices.

Also on board this year is the Durham Bus Tracker, which allows parents to monitor in real time the whereabouts of their child’s bus. That means no more waiting in the cold while wondering whether your bus is running late.

“It’s all about the safety of the students and to make the parents feel secure,” said Rhonda McLellan, assistant general manager for Durham as she demonstrated the Z-Pass.

“It’s great for us to be able to use the technology, and we have a great working relationship with the school district,” McLellan said.

The Z-Pass is available to all 6,800 district students served by Durham, though its use isn’t mandatory.

The tracker uses GPS, which relays the bus location in real time via an app to parents’ devices.

All buses also hold four cameras – in the front, middle and back of the interior, plus one outside – providing live feeds, which are not available for parents to watch in real-time.

“There are a few spots it misses, but it’s a very helpful tool for parents and drivers,” said McLellan, whose company runs 156 routes for Spokane Public Schools.

Durham hasn’t ignored hardware. Almost 30 of the district’s 250 buses are fueled by propane, and more are on the way.

When the weather gets icy, buses will employ new, lighter chains with sharper edges for better traction.

At the same time, the district makes weather checks during the evening and early-morning hours, including driving some routes if conditions dictate.

Durham contacts Spokane Public Schools transportation at 4:30 a.m. to review weather conditions.

The superintendent and her team make a determination by 5:30 a.m. to close school, delay the opening or operate normally.

“We’re chaining up at 3 a.m. on days when we know it’s going to be snowing,” McLellan said.

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