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District sending texts, emails to parents about late buses

sc-school-busesParents in Cottageville are now getting text messages and emails when their children’s buses are running late, a practice that the district is hoping to expand to the rest of the county by mid-November.

Colleton County schools, and the parents of children who attend these schools, have been plagued this school year with late buses: at its September board meeting, the school board heard from nearly a dozen angry parents who said their children were not arriving home via a bus until after 6 p.m. The school district is working to hire new drivers, with three already in class, and 17 scheduled to take classes that begin in mid-October. Until the bus driver shortage is over, however, the district is using new technology to notify parents of the late buses. The hope is that parents will have more control over the chaos until the problem is fixed, said Assistant Superintendent Bob Pence. “We are doing our best to fix this problem. We are trying,” he said of the bus driver shortage.

The text messages and emails are being delivered to parents through a new software program that the district bought at the beginning of the summer. Since then, the district’s technology department has been combing through the software, learning about its capabilities.

About two weeks ago, district employees began sending text messages and emails to parents of Cottageville students. The notifications tell them when buses are running late in the mornings and in the evenings. According to district Technology Director Beth Frank, the software cost the district about $10,000. It was also used to create the district’s new uniform website for the district and all of its schools. Frank said the district should receive a partial reimbursement for the software since it qualifies for a federal reimbursement program. “As we learn about what this software is capable of, we are implementing it,” said Frank. “This is a two-part system. If the school district’s transportation department enters the information about the bus route schedule, it should run immediately through the software and notify parents within seconds.”

According to Pence, the district will begin notifying all parents across the district via email and text messages in November. They are starting with the Cottageville area as a “pilot program,” he said, to work out any problems. The district also has to collect more parental information before it can implement the program district-wide. “We need parents’ email and phone information to get them the information,” said Pence. Parents can go onto the district’s website homepage and look for the icon “Notify me.” There, parents can pick their preferred method of being notified, and implement that information. The district just started advertising this icon and notification program on Friday.

But a late school bus isn’t the only thing that the software can notify parents about. Frank says the plan is to use this new system to remind parents of PTO meetings, early dismissals and even of hazardous weather. “The ‘notify me’ component of this software lets parents choose what they want to be notified of,” she said. “The buses are just the first run we’ve done with this feature.”

For more information on this alert system, go to the district’s website at www.colletonsd.org.

Heather Walters (1389 Posts)