Mount Airy (N.C.) City Schools will pilot a three-year Smart School Bus Safety program with part of the state’s coronavirus relief funding. - Photo courtesy Carrie Venable

Mount Airy (N.C.) City Schools will pilot a three-year Smart School Bus Safety program with part of the state’s coronavirus relief funding.

Photo courtesy Carrie Venable

The General Assembly of North Carolina has provided funding to Mount Airy City Schools for a new school bus safety program to combat the effects of COVID-19.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed House Bill 1105 on Sept. 4 to approve $2.3 billion in coronavirus relief funding for the state. As part of the bill, Section 4.16 included a $115,000 award to the state’s Department of Public Instruction for Mount Airy City Schools to pilot a three-year Smart School Bus Safety program.

The purpose of the program is to have the district contract with qualifying vendors to provide technology and services for its school buses, including onboard cameras, student ridership tracking and contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 infection, GPS tracking, a parent communication portal, and pre- and post-trip inspections.

“This pilot brings our current transportation technology into the future by providing turn-by-turn navigation, new camera systems, upgraded connections that allow everything from the bus to be connected electronically to existing technology, and provides safety and confidence to the driver on any route changes happening during the day,” Carrie Venable, the district’s executive officer of communications, told School Bus Fleet.

She also said that the program aims to enable contact tracing using GPS technology to mark when students get on and off the bus, where they may be in the bus route, and information about other students they were in contact with.

“The General Assembly has confidence that Mount Airy City Schools can deliver an informative pilot for the state,” Venable added. “We are small enough to get the pilot up and running quickly, and [the General Assembly] believes the data provided by [the district] will encourage other districts to use the technology and provide a framework to scale this technology across the state.”

In an invitation to bid for the pilot program, posted on the district’s website, Mount Airy City Schools confirmed that 14 school buses will be used for the program. The district also said that it has installed Synovia GPS systems on the buses, and “for compatibility and logistical reasons, has designated Synovia as the vendor of choice for this project.”

The deadline to submit bid proposals for the program is Oct. 16.

Mount Airy Schools expects to roll out the Smart School Bus Safety program in January, ahead of the spring semester, Venable said.

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