Milford schools expand transit cards to lunch, library use

MILFORD — Last year, Milford students began using their ID cards to get on the school bus. This year, the same cards get them into the cafeteria and media center, and log into the school system's computers. And the program may expand again as school officials come up with more uses.

"We needed to know who was on the bus in case there was a student on that bus who tested positive," said Chief Operations Officer Jim Richetelli. "It was really difficult to do attendance by hand. Then we had to deal with all the sheets coming back at the end of the day. So if we needed to do contact tracing, it took time to go through all the paper sheets and get that information back to the schools and the health department. So our idea was to do it automatically, so if we needed to contact trace, we could go to our system and see who was on the bus that day."

So the school contracted with Zonar Systems for its Z-pass student card. The $73,000 expenditure allowed much quicker and easier contact tracing. But once the schools started using the technology on the buses, officials decided to use the card for many other school-related things, such as school lunches, checking out books, and using computers.

"At the kindergarten to second-grade level, the ID cards have a QR code, and they use it to log into their Chromebook," said Richetelli. "Also, all our students use it for the cafeteria for school lunch and to get into the media center to check out books."

 When the students first started using the new ID cards, there was something of a learning curve, Richetelli said.

"In the beginning, it was something new for the students, but they picked it up quickly," he said.

But if the students picked up the card system quickly, summer brought an unanticipated wrinkle when the students put the cards down for three months.

"We didn't count on how we were going to handle it over the summer," Richetelli said. "So when the students came back this year, many of them had lost their cards or just didn't have their cards. So we had to issue new cards this year. That was a little wrinkle we didn't anticipate this year, but now everybody has a new card."

"The schools are now issuing ID cards with a lanyard and backpack clip, according to transportation coordinator Judy Messologitis.

"The most popular with students has been the lanyard option," she said.

If students do forget their cards, the school system has a backup plan.

"We don't exclude them from getting on the bus, they still get them on the bus, but we encourage them to bring them the following day," said Richetelli. "Also, staff can override the system in all the different places the cards are used. They are kids, and we understand that, so we put things into place, so we don't run into problems."

The system has proven successful to the point that Richetelli said the schools will budget for new cards every year.

"At least on the elementary level and maybe on the middle and high school level too," he said. "The cards cost about $2 each, so that is something we need to add to the budget to replace them each year."

Once the district buys the cards, Richetelli said, a printer at the district office loads and prints them. But that may change next year, he said.

"I believe that next year we will be buying a printer for each of the schools so they will be able to print cards for their students at their schools, so we are not doing 5,000 of them here, but the schools can be doing them individually," he said.