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New technology limits student time in extreme heat at bus stop

Leander ISD Transportation Director Myron Wilson (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With this summer breaking heat records and triple-digit temperatures expected to continue as students return to school, how is your local school district helping to keep kids safe? I wanted to know if there were any.

Sean Kelly, a meteorologist, spoke with Myron Wilson, head of transportation for Leander ISD, and said an app called “SMART Tag,” which the school district introduced last year, is being used to make bus routes safer and more efficient. It can also be used to keep students safe. during this dangerous heat.

“This enables safety, visibility and communication for students, parents, drivers and campuses,” said Wilson.

“SMART Tags” alert students and parents in near real time if the bus is delayed. Wilson says this is common with ongoing construction and increased traffic congestion. Instead of waiting at the bus stop if the bus is known to be late, students can stay home and wait in the air conditioning.

Buses stop on campus in the afternoon and students are notified when the bus arrives.

“So they leave campus, they leave the air-conditioned building, they get on the air-conditioned bus,” says Wilson. This further reduces the amount of time students spend outdoors in the heat.

The app is also a tool for weather emergencies and weather related bus delays. Students and parents will be notified in advance (e.g. if roads are flooded) and instructed to wait at home for late pick-ups. Alternatively, if you have already been picked up and are on the bus back to school, campus administration will be notified of your estimated arrival time.

Heat countermeasures for school buses in other districts

Many neighborhoods in Central Texas have plenty of air-conditioned buses, but not the Austin ISD. At the start of the school year, the district has a total of 201 large school buses. A total of 119 vehicles, including special assistance buses, are air-conditioned.

The district continues to add new AC-equipped buses to its total fleet every week and expects to increase the percentage of total AC-equipped buses from 60% to 70% by the end of October.

In addition, measures have been taken to keep students as cool as possible in buses without AC. First, on non-air-conditioned buses, the windows are lowered and fans are turned on inside, Hafezizadeh said. The district is also implementing a strategic plan in which these buses will be designated with the shortest bus routes and usage.

A $2.44 billion bond for 2022 recently approved by the AISD Board will ensure that the entire AISD fleet will be equipped with air-conditioned buses.

Austin ISD also uses an app called Where’s the Bus. It works like a SmartTag, keeping parents and students always aware of the location of the bus.

With the back-to-school heat wave expected to continue, the district is encouraging students to wear light-colored clothing and carry a bottle of water, especially if walking or biking to school.