Iowa recently updated its state school bus specifications and added Wi-Fi Internet to its list of approved list. Now local school districts must decide how they oversee access.
School districts, especially those in rural areas, began calling for Wi-Fi in 2012 when the technology became readily available, said Max Christensen, state director at the Iowa Department of Education. Many morning and afternoon rural routes can run 60 to 75 minutes with activity trips, exceeding two hours.
"I think it's a great idea and I'm very anxious to get some feedback on how it's working out for those districts choosing to use it," he said. "With the addition of Wi-Fi, the students will be able to do homework or occupy their time in a very useful manner. I also think it will help lessen behavioral problems for those same reasons as well."
As Iowa is a local control state, Christensen said school districts are empowered to decide if they want to limit school bus Internet access and exactly how the system can be used.
"We, of course, are concerned that certain sites are limited, but trust the districts to make the correct decisions based on their knowledge along with parental feedback," he added.
The Iowa specs assigned Wi-Fi to subsection h. of Section 44.3(39) that governs school bus interior equipment. As with the other approved equipment, Wi-Fi equipment cannot include any projections that could cause the potential for injuries.
Christensen told STN the update took longer than expected following the 2010 National Congress on School Transportation. While not specifically addressing Wi-Fi, the state delegates included verbiage in the National School Transportation Standards & Procedures manual to ensure, in part, that any new technology and equipment compromises neither the effectiveness or integrity of any major safety system nor diminishes the safety of the bus interior.
"Due to us reformatting this chapter and combining a number of rules together forced the legislative approval process to stretch into four-plus years rather than the usual approximate 18-month process," he explained. "Had we been able to get our rules approved and into effect within 18 months after the 2010 NCST, I think we may actually have been ahead of the schools asking for this."