School district considering new ID system to ensure student safety, plan met with concerns | #schoolsaftey

FLORENCE, Ky. (WKRC) – Boone County Schools is considering the implementation of a second phase of safety upgrades for its school buses. The upgrades are intended to keep kids safe as driver shortages continue.

As part of the first phase of upgrades last year, the district’s buses have GPS trackers inside them. Boone County Schools is now proposing the second phase: the RFID-based ‘Z Pass’ system through the company Zonar.

With the ‘Z Pass’ system, each student in its 27 schools would have an ID to scan to a reader device on the school bus, much like an employee badge scanning into a building. Each time a student would enter or exit the bus, they’d scan their ID card. Each card has a specific number that identifies the student and that number will match to the device, adding the student to the roster of a bus.

That way, the school can keep track of ridership on a bus in case of an emergency. When the RFID badge is not being scanned on the device, the card is passive.

According to Boone County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Operations Kim Best, the Zonar system also contains an app option for parents to download called the Zonar MyView Parent App. Through that optional app, parents can be notified when their child scans in or out of a bus, but the app doesn’t track the child further.

Best says the ‘Z Pass’ system is meant to help track ridership as bus driver shortages continue. As the third largest district in Kentucky, about 16,000 of the district’s 20,000 students use transportation.

Before shortages, she says a driver would be assigned to the same route every day and know each child.

Right now, the district is allocated 223 bus route drivers, but is understaffed by 35. Best says it’s a way to ensure students get on and off at the right stop.

“Really looking at it from a safety standpoint is really the key reason for this. I was a former teacher and elementary school principal and the worst phone call I’ve had to take is from a parent saying, ‘My child didn’t get off the bus today,'” said Best.

However, some parents believe adding a new system shouldn’t be the answer to staffing shortages.

Aaron Gillum is the father of a 9-year-old Boone County student on the autism spectrum. Gillum has a professional background in information and technology, and says he’s not getting the answers he needs from the school board on the security of the cloud-based information database that connects a student’s name to the number on the ID badge. He says if that database isn’t secure enough, the system could be compromised by a hacker.

He says while he’s not necessarily against the ‘Z Pass’ system, he would like for the school board to urge the district to investigate the technology further before it’s implemented.

“I think it’s a hasty move–there’s a need here obviously–there’s some risks on the transportation department and I’m glad that the school is taking action on that, but coming to us and saying ‘we have to track your children through this electronic means because we don’t have any other way to keep track of things and we’re going to push this through really fast because schools coming up quick’ and maybe skip over some of these security checks. That’s not okay to me and many parents share that concern with me,” said Gillum.

Local 12 addressed those security of the information database concerns with Boone County Schools. According to the district, health and security information is not stored on it. The database is also not accessible remotely and the information cannot be transferred to another computer.

According to Best, the technology has been discussed in multiple safety working groups, which include first responders who support it.

The Boone County Sheriff’s Office was asked to comment on the database and its security, but it did not offer an opinion on the record.

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