Mount Airy City Schools has been chosen for a pilot program aimed at making the school bus ride safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The third round of state COVID-19 relief legislation, which cleared the General Assembly in House Bill 1105 on Thursday, provides $115,000 to the state Department of Public Instruction to establish the Smart School Bus Safety pilot program.
The Mount Airy system was chosen in part because about 1,300 of its 1,700 students are being instructed in-class during the 2020-21 school year. About 500 students are bus riders, according to system Superintendent Kim Morrison.
The program would begin Nov. 23 and end on Jan. 1, 2024. The funding is required to be spent by Dec. 30. When the program concludes, the system would keep the equipment.
According to the bill, the purpose "is to transform and improve the transportation of public school students through technology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Morrison said the state DPI is contracting with Tyler Technologies of Plano, Texas, which is known for technology that monitors engine diagnostic data, routing information and location information for school districts. Parents also have access to location reports.
It appears the pilot program is the first for Tyler linked to COVID-19 symptom tracking, along with the global position system technology.
"We're a small enough school district that we can help work out the kinks before applying the technology on a statewide basis," Morrison said.
Morrison said the main goal is tracking student ridership and providing contact-tracing capabilities.
Students or their parents will fill out daily a COVID-19 symptoms questionnaire on a dashboard similar to a pre-screening for a doctor's visit.
Students' temperatures will be checked by a monitor when they board the bus, and their seat location will be tracked. Only one student is allowed per seat.
Morrison said in-school instruction is working overall three weeks into the school year. One of her goals with the pilot program is having more of the 400 remote learners back in the classroom.
"The common feedback I'm getting from parents is that 'we want our kids in school,' but providing safe bus transportation during the pandemic is an issue for some of them," Morrison said.
"If we can provide assurances with the transportation piece, I believe more parents will be willing to have their child in class."
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