man sits in bus seat
Leander ISD Director of Transportation, Myron Wilson (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With this summer shattering heat records and triple digit temperatures expected to continue as students head back to school, we wanted to see how local school districts were helping to keep kids safe.

Meteorologist Sean Kelly spoke with Leander ISD Director of Transportation, Myron Wilson, who explained the app the district implemented just last year called “SMART tag“is not only used for security and efficiency of bus routes, but can also be used to keep students safe during this dangerous heat.

“It provides … safety, visibility and communication for our students, for our parents, for our drivers and also for our campuses,” Wilson said.

“SMART tag” gives near real-time alerts to the students and parents if a bus is delayed — a common occurrence with ongoing construction and increasing traffic congestion, Wilson said. When they know a bus is delayed, those students have the ability to stay home and wait there in the air conditioning instead of waiting at their bus stop.

As for the afternoons, buses are staged at the campuses and students will get alerts when their bus arrives.

“So they come right off the campus, right out of the air-conditioned building, right onto an air-conditioned bus,” Wilson said. This further cuts down on time students spend outside in the heat.

The app is also a tool for weather emergencies or weather-related bus delays as well. Students and parents will be notified ahead of time (if there is a flooded roadway, for example) to wait at home for their delayed pick up. Or, if they are already picked up and on the bus heading back to the school, campus administrators will be notified of their estimated time of arrival.

How other districts’ school buses handle the heat

While many districts in Central Texas have a full fleet of air-conditioned buses, Austin ISD does not. The district has a total of 201 large school buses as of the start of the school year. A total of 119 have air conditioning, including all the special needs buses.

The district continues to add more new buses with AC to its total fleet on a weekly basis and is expecting to raise the percent of total buses with AC from 60% to 70% by the end of October.

In addition, steps are being taken to try and keep students cool the best they can on the buses without AC. For starters, Hafezizadeh said, on buses without AC, windows are lowered and fans inside are turned on. The district also implements strategic planning where these buses are designated with the shortest bus route and usage.

The 2022 $2.44 billion bond that was recently approved by AISD board will ensure the entire fleet of AISD will have air-conditioned buses.

Austin ISD also uses an app called Where’s the Bus. This functions similarly to SmartTag, keeping parents and student’s in the loop of where their bus is located at all times.

With the brutal heat still not expected to ease for the start of the school year, the district also recommends students wear light color clothing and carry bottled water with them, especially if they are walking or biking to school.