Some Hillsborough parents aren’t on board with new school bus tracking app

Every year, school districts in the Bay Area struggle to get students to school on time. To help parents and students plan for delays, Hillsborough County Public Schools will be rolling out new technology this fall that will allow parents to track their child’s bus using the Here Comes the Bus app.

“The Here Comes the Bus app gives them real-time information to let them know where that bus is and just allows us to have better transparency and communication with our community,” Superintendent Addison Davis explained during from a school board meeting where he presented the app to board members last fall.

As the school year approaches, not all parents are on board. Several parents in Hillsborough County are concerned about data privacy and the ability for schools, app makers or even hackers to track their children.

“We don’t want their private information, our locations, addresses, places they visit, to be on there,” Hillsborough parent Marianne Gonzales said.

Others wonder why the district, which will ask voters this fall to approve an increase in their property taxes to help fund schools, is spending nearly $1 million on a tracking app instead of use that money to hire more drivers.

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“I understand that the district wants to communicate better with parents because our children are consistently late for school, not for any other reason except that we are not properly funding our public school transportation,” said said Hillsborough parent Josephine Amato. “Why are we doing it differently than using the system we use now which has a GPS system on it?”

For years, parents in Hillsborough have been able to track the location of their child’s bus using a GPS tracking system installed inside the district’s school buses. The district said that system, which ran on 2G technology, is outdated.

They have now upgraded to a 4G system and contracted Here Comes the Bus for the tracking service. The app works by using radio frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in student bus ID cards. When a student scans their driver card on a bus, parents will be able to use the app to monitor their child’s movements to and from school.

“The technology is similar to a boarding pass on an airplane and is particularly useful for parents of our young students if they get off the bus at the wrong stop or if there is bad weather or heavy traffic along the route. “, said the district. written in a press release.

Unlike a device like a Tile or a phone, which can broadcast a signal at any time, the tracking technology used by apps like Here Comes the Bus is limited.

“It’s a passive controller,” explained Greg Ross-Munro, technology expert and CEO of Sourcetoad. “Without being a few millimeters from the reader, it will be useless.”

In a statement, the Hillsborough County School District explained that card readers will only be located inside school buses, so a student’s card will not be tracked beyond school doors. bus.

According to the app’s creator, Synovia, no identifiable student information will be linked to their bus passes.

But parents like Amato said they worry about a much broader scope, like where a child or parent user’s data goes, and who might end up with it, whether through a breach. of data or a sale of data.

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“It’s the government that tracks your child and then allows a company to have that data.“, said Amato.

The district said parents will be able to opt out of using the system, but students will still need to enter their student ID when boarding a school bus.

While we encourage all children to wear their RFID for safety reasons, a child is not required to wear the Ridership card,” the district said. “The district will still manually enter each bus driver into the GPS system. for the safety of the child, so we know who is on each bus in the event of an incident or if a child gets off at the wrong bus stop.”

Ross-Munro recommends that parents contact app makers to learn more about how data will be stored and the strength of the company’s security system protecting that data.

“I think they should ask the company what kind of measures they have in place to prevent data breaches. That’s actually probably more of a concern than being able to track someone using their card. said Ross-Munro, who also warns parents to take a closer look at the types of apps their children download.

According to Ross-Munro, several popular gaming apps track and sell users’ private information. Some even send spam messages or phishing links which can lead to major personal data breaches.

“I would probably ask parents to look at what kind of apps their kids already have on their phones. Those are a bigger concern to me than something that’s going to be provided by a specialist vendor that’s controlled by the school board, that has to comply with federal regulations. The kinds of things your kids download onto their phones are way more concerning than something that hasn’t gone through a vetting process like this,” Ross said. -Munro.

On Thursday from 6-7:30 p.m., the district will hold a town hall meeting at Newsome High School in Lithia where parents plan to address their concerns to the superintendent.

About Sandra A. Powell

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