LANCASTER, Calif. – The Antelope Valley Schools Transportation Agency is using biometric iris scanners on special needs buses to prevent tragedies like the recent death of an autistic student who was abandoned on his school bus.
Hun Joon “Paul” Lee, a 19-year-old autistic student, was left on a contracted school bus in a district parking lot for hours Sept. 11, when he was found unresponsive laying in the aisle. A substitute driver picked him up at 8:30 a.m. and his parents believe he never got off the bus. Lee’s mother realized something was wrong when his bus didn’t arrive after school, NBC Los Angeles reports.
The nearby Antelope Valley Transportation Agency, meanwhile, is conducting a pilot program with iris scanners on special needs buses in hopes of preventing a similar tragedy from occurring in that district.
“Students will biometrically (iris) scan identity as the board and exit the school bus,” according to a Monday press release. “The IRITRANS system will notify the driver visibly and audibly if the child is about to get on or off at the wrong bus stop. When the bus reaches the end of its daily route, the driver simply ends the route on the IRITRANS mobile device and if all students have not exited the bus, the device will notify the driver both visually and audibly to recheck the bus.”
“Lost or sleeping kids. It happens every year in most school districts nationally only we rarely hear about it,” IRITRAK president John DeVries said. “Kids left sleeping on a bus is at epidemic proportions nationally.”
IRITRAK alleges the iris scans are “non-intrusive” with “absolutely no identity security risks in the complete process.”
The main purpose of the technology is to track students to ensure they make it off the bus at the correct stops, but also has other benefits during emergencies.
“School bus emergencies go way back, 39 years ago on July 15, 1976; kidnappers abducted 26 children, ages 5 to 14, and their school bus driver in Chowchilla, Madera County, California,” the statement reads. “If such a thing would happen today, IRITRANS would immediately notify authorities real-time where the bus is located and the specific students onboard it.”
On Saturday, the Lee family held a mass for Paul, where his father Sang Sik Lee spoke out the importance of protecting students with special needs, the Whittier Daily News reports.
“Hun Joon went to heaven, but I hope that our society will care and share the love with people with special needs because they should not be ignored or disregarded,” he said. “What happened to Hun Joon should not happen again.”
Officials with the Pupil Transportation Cooperative, the company that operated Lee’s bus, were “stunned and saddened” by the student’s death, president Jon McNeil said.
“We are grieving along with his family and friends and offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences for their loss,” he said.
Parents of other autistic students in the school district urged Whittier School District board of education members to review and change bus policy to prevent the tragedy from occurring again, the Daily News reports.
The Pupil Transportation Cooperative also hopes to implement new safety precautions.
“They will be pushing for electronic notification devices be placed in school buses,” PTC spokesman Tom DeLapp said.