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Schools use GPS to track kids

A suburban Chicago school district made headlines this week when it unveiled its new system for tracking kids as they get on and off school buses. A number of schools around the country already use GPS technology to track the buses themselves, but the Palos Heights school district goes much further, outfitting each child’s backpack with a tracking unit so they can keep an eye on individual students.

It’s the latest use of location-based tracking software and it’s designed to keep students safe and make life easier for anxious parents. Superintendent Kathleen Casey researched the technology last year after a 1st grader missed his stop and set off a frantic search to track down where he was.

“It's a terrifying experience,” Casey said. “I wondered if this technology would give us the ability to identify, 'Did a child get on the bus? Did they get off? If they got off, did they get off at the right stop?’”

Palos Heights officials have assigned ID tags to 400 students in pre-school through 5th grade. From her office, transportation director Barbara Lynch can check when a student boards or exits a bus. If a parent calls to inquire about a student’s whereabouts, Lynch can determine the bus’s location and whether the child is on board.

For now, access to the system is strictly limited to a handful of school officials, but it’s possible the system could be made available to individual parents at a later date. They could then use a unique username and password to determine the current location of their particular child.

Not everyone is comfortable with this latest use of technology. Writing for parenting site Babble, Paul Abernstein asks “Haven’t kids been riding school buses for generations? Has anything changed during that time other than the need for so-called helicopter parents to keep constant track of their children? What’s next? Are we going to have digital chips installed in our kids’ brains so we can keep track of them at all times?”

Some educators and family experts admit that these safety measures are often more about putting parents at ease rather than protecting the child. “If technological advances make the parent feel less anxious and more at ease, then I think that can help,” said therapist David Klow with The Family Institute at Northwestern University. “Whatever it's going to take for the parent to feel relaxed because the child feeds off the parent.”

Should we be using technology to track our kids to and from school? Will it help keep our kids safe or is just catering to over-protective parents? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!     

Comment by Alli, posted 9/2/2010, 9:19 AM:

I think the key is in the last quote from David Klow- technological advances put the parents at ease. Therefore I think it should be up to the parents to approve the use of the device. Make it optional. Also, I don't think putting it on the backpacks is a good idea because if the kid gets off the bus and forgets his backpack, you know where the backpack is, not the kid.
Comment by Robyn Wright of Robyn's Online World, posted 9/2/2010, 6:54 AM:

I think this is overkill. As a community we all need to pitch in as real humans if there is an issue with kids missing from buses on their way to school. I'm a huge fan of gadgets, but this is one area that I think it isn't the right place for them.
Comment by Rebecca, posted 9/1/2010, 3:45 PM:

A few years back before GPS was so widespread, a friend of mine who is a brilliant engineer speculated about putting GPS chips in her future kids' shoes, which would be difficult to lose. It seems like this technology might be a bit of overkill for getting on and off the school bus, but I can see it even saving lives if individual parents could use it to track their kids if their kids were kidnapped or went missing. Maybe gps-trackable kids would even have more freedom to roam?
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