School busing info sent by text

Parents of Mountview Elementary School can get immediate busing information at the touch of a button.

Parents of Mountview Elementary School can get immediate busing information at the touch of a button.

They can now register for the Parent Notification System, a free program that will send either a text or email when their child’s bus is running late or cancelled.

It’s part of a pilot project from the Red Deer Public School District to bring the transportation department up to speed as well as cut down on phone calls.

“We want to keep up with the times,” said Scott Partridge, transportation manager for the school district. “Some schools use a home phone-out system, but that’s no good for the moms already waiting at the bus stop.”

Since the pilot project’s launch at Mountview on Feb. 29, about 100 parents have registered, said Partridge.

Eighty-five per cent of registrants chose to receive texts over email.

He plans to have the system running in the entire district in September, for the start of the 2012-2013 school year.

“We’re excited we’ve got something that can keep parents informed in real time now.”

The idea came to Partridge from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, where his son attends. Some teachers at Lindsay Thurber use remind101, a website that allows educators to text or email students about homework, tests, etc.

Partridge approached the Chicago brothers Brett and David Kopf, who started remind101 in 2009 about using it for communicating bus delays. They began planning the pilot project for Mountview along with four other American schools several months ago.

Mountview, one of the district’s larger schools, was chosen because it runs five buses.

The bus contractors alert Partridge if there will be delays of 10 minutes or more and he relays that information to parents on the text/email distribution lists.

Each bus has its own distribution list of numbers and email addresses from parents who have registered. Partridge can send out notices of delays from his own smartphone wherever he is.

Parents at the bus stop with their cellphones immediately know if there’s a delay — no computer or home phone is needed.

Parents can also visit to check for bus delays, said Partridge. That was phase one of the pilot project.

The text and email system is phase two.

The only unfortunate part, said Partridge, is winter weather is coming to an end and there will be fewer opportunity to try out the project.

That being said, the system worked “extremely well” last week during Red Deer’s snowfall warning and resulting bus problems.