by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Families using Winona Area Public Schools Transportation (WAPS) will be able to keep tabs on when they can expect the bus to arrive using an app or online this school year.
Once the school year begins and the district makes sure student routes are set correctly, transportation manager Casey Indra said WAPS will share information with families about the app and how to s register there. The district could share that information around the second week of school, he said.
The school board unanimously approved the tool, FirstView, at its August 18 meeting. The transportation company First Student, with which the district has a contract, provides the platform. FirstView offers a web platform for districts and an app for families.
The family app, ParentView, is free for families and has no cost to the district, Indra said in an interview. Families can also access the tool in a mobile web browser, said Tiffani Ingram, representative of First Student’s implementation team, at the August board meeting. GPS units on each bus are used to track their location, she said.
The family app will show approximately where a bus is, Indra said in an interview. Ingram said at the meeting that the progress of the bus is indicated by an arrow and that updates along the route occur in near real time, but not exactly real time, so the precise location bus is safer. “There will be no student data or stop data,” Indra said in an interview, adding that this means student names will not be associated. Families will need to know which route their child is on and have a district code to use the app, he said.
Families will be able to receive notifications when the bus is two miles away, for example, Indra said. Ingram said at the meeting that could be push or email notifications. Indra said in an interview that he hoped it would give families who leave for work before their children board the bus peace of mind because families can see if the bus is running late. It could also help families rushing home to pick up their children from the bus at the end of the day, he said. Also in winter, families would have a better idea of exactly when the bus will arrive so students don’t have to wait so long in the cold, he said. “They can stay a bit warmer in the winter and definitely safer all year round,” he said.
The app will enable faster communication with families about bus schedule updates such as delays, Indra said, whether from construction or trains.
School board member Stephanie Smith said, “I think it’s a hugely helpful platform for a lot of our parents, especially those who don’t have the ability to drive their kids themselves or don’t don’t have the ability to leave work early to take their child to college because he missed the bus by about two minutes.
School board president Nancy Denzer said she has concerns about middle school phone use, if families call students early in the day to make sure they’re at school, and families calling the district instead to verify. School board member Karl Sonneman suggested discussing this topic with middle school administrators. With or without the app, Indra said families can call or text students to make sure they’ve been to school, and he’ll make sure to speak with principals.
Previously, Indra had tested ParentView, he said in an interview, because he had a child on the bus. He considered what information could be seen there, how it could be used and whether it would be safe for families, he said.
Indra added that the district also has access to the district version of the tool, DistrictView, which allows the district to see multiple buses, while families can only see the routes they sign up for. Indra tested the district version of the tool and found it to be an effective platform, he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was a valuable tool for us,” he said at the meeting.
“I think the app will speak for itself in allowing parents to have enough information to know where these buses are,” he said in an interview.