No child left behind: That’s the goal of the new alarm systems that are being installed in North Thurston Public Schools’ bus fleet.
The gadgets are designed to ensure drivers walk to the back of their buses — ideally, checking each row for kids who might have fallen asleep or stayed in the seats — at the end of a route.
“That one time you forget? It won’t happen,” said Kristin Foster, assistant director of transportation for the 14,000-student district.
The alarms are expected to be installed in all of the district’s 130 buses by the beginning of the school year, she said. Total cost for the systems was about $8,000, Foster said.
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Last December, a 6-year-old with special needs was left alone on a North Thurston bus for about seven hours. In January 2013, a preschooler was left alone on one of the district’s buses for about two hours.
Both cases involved substitute bus drivers who admitted they didn’t follow the district’s protocol of walking through the bus at the end of their route. The drivers resigned.
In addition to adding alarms to the buses, the district also required its 80 permanent and nearly 30 substitute drivers to take a refresher course on safety protocol, Foster said.
The district looked at several alarm systems, and decided to go with the Child Reminder System because it was “the most comprehensive,” said North Thurston mechanic Roger Lange.
“Our priority is ultimately safety,” he said. “That is non-negotiable with us.”
When the driver turns the bus off, the system arms, and will sound an alarm if the driver opens the door without pressing a button at the back of the bus.
“You have to go to the back of the bus, no matter what,” Lange said.
Also this summer, mechanics are upgrading video camera systems on buses, and adding digital radios that will ensure drivers can be reached throughout the district.
Before this summer, there were areas that drivers couldn’t be reached due to poor reception.
“This time we won’t have any dead spots,” Foster said.