“Does anybody need bus passes?”
It’s a common question asked by teachers and staff, but one that students don’t value much. In Odle Middle School, there are two sets of buses. The first set leaves the school at 3:35, five minutes after dismissal. The second set, the activity buses, leaves at 4:50. While most students take the regular buses at 3:35, those who stay after school for activities, clubs or tutorial often take the activity bus.
Students who take the first regular bus board the bus without needing a pass, but students who take the activity bus must get a bus pass, a small slip of paper with a staff signature, to board. When a student leaves a club or tutorial for the bus, the teacher or supervisor is supposed to give them a bus pass.
Many students and drivers ignore the bus pass concept. Most of those who ignore it find it a waste, since it takes time and does not do anything good. The Bellevue School District is starting to take a stricter path. Students will now be required to show bus passes, and this rule will be strictly enforced.
But the strict enforcement makes us ask a few questions. Does the bus pass system really help? Are there any better alternatives?
Based on the school’s rhetoric, there are two main reasons for the bus pass system. First, it is important to understand the bus passes are actually afterschool passes. When transitioning between afterschool activities are expected to have their original afterschool activity fill out the pass. The supervisor must detail when the student leaves, where the student is leaving from, and where the student wishes to go next, along with the student’s name. One activity that the student can go to next is “bus”. These passes are used, in general, to ensure that students who stay afterschool are being productive and using their time wisely. Administrators ask students in the hallways afterschool to show them their pass, and if the students do not have a pass, administrators inquire about how they have been using their time.
The first goal is for students to be productive. The second goal is the obvious safety concern of having an unknown person board the bus by imitating to be an Odle student. This person may try to hijack the bus, or they may just be trying to get from one place to another, but whatever the reason is, the BSD has a valid reason to prevent strangers from boarding their student-filled busses.
Both goals make sense. As explained above, the safety goal is obviously serious. It is also in the BSD’s interest to have their students be productive. But are these goals really enough to deny a student a boarding pass? It is important to note that students can go to Club Jubilee, where they can play sports and hangout, while still getting a bus pass. Thus the school’s argument that students should not be hanging out in the hallways is valid since they are giving a safe, supervised space for students to have fun.
I want to emphasize that the students can have fun and still follow these rules. Thus the bus pass system is totally understandable, but what I’m really trying to argue is that they are inefficient. Lots of valuable paper and time is wasted by teachers when they have to fill out these bus passes. If the BSD really wants to help protect students and make sure that they are being productive, they have a more high-tech alternative, ID cards.
All students are already given ID cards that have a barcode. The school library already uses this ID card to efficiently check out books to students. The library uses a barcode scanner to scan the ID card, and then they load the book onto the student’s card.
The BSD already has the barcode cards and the system to support them. To expand this ID card system to replace bus passes, busses just need to have a scanner connected to the BSD system. Since the backend systems are already in place, the busses just need to buy a scanner. Wireless barcode scanners can be bought for a few hundred dollars online, and wired ones for under 100 dollars. Buying in bulk will decrease these prices.
Considering that they are only three activity buses that leave Odle, the scanners should cost Odle a few hundred dollars.
If the school wishes to expand this technology to allow students to scan in and scan out of activities, they can get the cheaper wired barcode scanners for each classroom/club. This will cost less than a hundred dollars per club/classroom, which is a very minor cost compared to nearly 400-million-dollar budget of the BSD.
Activity passes will always be an understandable and workable system, but in the digital age where all BSD middle and high school students have computers, the ID card system seems fit. The reliability, ease of use, and flexibility of the ID system makes it a good fit for the district to track student movement. The practical argument for the ID system has been set, but the ethical controversy is yet to come.