Students across the east are enjoying summer vacation right now while school administrators are already busy, preparing for next school year. Duplin County Schools are trying to expand their $300,000 tracking and surveillance system for school buses.
This bus tracking technology made headlines earlier this month when district officials tracked down a rogue bus in Duplin County and had the driver charged with driving while intoxicated. Officials say GPS tracking is just a taste of what the system can do.
"It's all about the safety of our children," says transportation director Jeff Thigpen.
From his desk at the district bus yard, Thigpen can track down any bus at any time to see exactly how fast it's driving and what route it's taking.
Over the summer the school system is working to make the software available to every principal and assistant principal in the district. Rose Hill-Magnolia Elementary's assistant principal Angelo Cavallaro loves the idea.
"A lot of the phone calls that we get at the end of the day are parents calling if a bus was running late. It would be very helpful to get that live feedback," says Cavallaro.
He says it's also helpful that every bus ride is recorded. Almost every move a student or bus driver makes is caught on tape, thanks to three tiny cameras.
One watches the doors as students get on and off the bus. A camera at the back keeps and eye on students from behind. The third camera at the front captures the whole bus ride to and from school.
It's a tiny camera on the outside that those of us who don't ride a school bus need to be aware of.
"We have approximately 20 buses with the stop arm camera on it. It gets the car or the truck or whatever passing the bus, going and coming."
That's right, you're on camera. If you keep driving when a bus' red lights are flashing you can expect to hear from the Highway Patrol.
"This is something that we take very very seriously, and it is zero tolerance," says trooper David Morgan.
Morgan says it's one of the most serious moving violations in our state. You'll lose five points on your drivers license and could spend time in jail.
Back at Rose Hill-Magnolia, Cavallaro says student safety is the bottom line.
"The main purpose for schools is to teach and learn, and to optimize teaching and learning we have to provide a safe place," he says.
The school system has about 150 buses and Thigpen says it was well worth the money. The county bought it three years ago and he notes they probably wouldn't be able to make a purchase like that now with the current budget cutbacks schools are facing statewide.
About 9,000 students are bussed in Duplin County. For more information on traffic laws around buses, and school bus safety tips, you can check out ncbussafety.org.