New attendance system to help Milford improve contract tracing

Principal Steve Gottlieb greets students as they arrive for the first day of class at Harborside Middle School, in Milford, Conn. Sept. 1, 2021.

Principal Steve Gottlieb greets students as they arrive for the first day of class at Harborside Middle School, in Milford, Conn. Sept. 1, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — New technology will help Milford officials with contract tracing on buses, as the district works to address small issues it has found so far this year.

Meanwhile, Milford Public Schools still has enough bus drivers to cover all their regular home-to-school routes as well as all the athletic events amid a nationwide bus driver shortage.

“However, it definitely is a strain at this point with regards to drivers. There is a small number at any given time that could be out on quarantine because of contact,” said James Richetelli, the school district’s chief operations, last week. “Not necessarily even they have COVID but are just in quarantine.”

Besides drivers who may need to quarantine, Richetelli said they are finding that a small number of drivers have left to other companies because they are offering a substantial signing bonus.

“So we’ve lost a few, two or three drivers, who have gone because the money was good at other companies,” he said. “Since there’s a shortage of bus drivers, other companies, in an effort to get licensed drivers, are offering good amounts of money to join their company. We are happy to say that for the most part, our drivers have remained loyal.”

“When you are dealing with a shortage of bus drivers, to begin with, and if you lose two or three, that puts a strain on everything else,” he added.

Milford has contracted Durham School Services Richetelli said. Durham runs 63 buses with some 110 routes and 1,100 stops.

When school officials reviewed the 2020 school year, they identified the buses as being one of the weak points of contract tracing. So they started doing research and found out they could incorporate attendance technology into the buses.

“We started to seek it out with our bus company and the company that does our routing,” said Richetelli. “So in combination with the bus company and the routing company, our IT department and our transportation department, they all got together and identified this technology as potentially helping us in this whole process.”

Currently, the bus drivers are taking attendance.

“The bus drivers look at the attendance sheet and check names off,” said Richetelli. “It just slows things down a little bit, and it also takes the driver's attention away from driving the bus, watching the kids and everything else.”

With the new technology, students will use their current ID cards to swipe on a device that will automatically record their attendance for the day. Because of the real-time nature of the technology, school officials don’t have to wait for the attendance sheet to be sorted, and they can act quickly, if there was exposure.

“We’ve also implemented assigned seating, particularly at the elementary school. So it makes it very quick for us to say that student was on the bus, and they were assigned to this seat, and so these six students were in close contact on the bus, so they need to be quarantined, but the entire bus doesn't need to be,” he said. “This new system will help us in the efficiency of the bus altogether, but it will help us also in limiting the number of quarantines after contact tracing.”

The new bus technology won’t be in until Thanksgiving, said Richetelli, but they have ordered the system and have started training. But when the technology arrives and gets installed, bus drivers will still be taking manual attendance for a while.

“Bus drivers will be taking manual attendance to make sure we get all the potential kinks out of the new system,” said Richetelli. “So we are going to have a backup to the new system, which is what we are currently are doing.”