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Alarms, Safety Bus make sure no child is left behind in Baldwin-Whitehall

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

By Al Lowe, Tri-State Sports & News Service

Late last month a 5-year-old boy was left alone on a school bus in Hazelwood for 4 1/2 hours, overlooked by the driver and a bus monitor who were later charged with child endangerment.

It's a parent's nightmare -- children left behind on a school bus. But the Baldwin-Whitehall School District for years has had a two-pronged, innovative approach to the problem.

Baldwin-Whitehall is one of the few districts in Western Pennsylvania that has outfitted its buses with an alarm system which prevents drivers from accidentally leaving a child on the bus. And it is the only district in the area with its own specially equipped Safety Bus that visits the local schools to help teach bus safety to children.

The Safety Bus, a classroom on wheels, has been used in the district for 14 years, and the Child Check Mate System that prevents children from being left on buses has been installed on every district bus for the past four years.

The current Safety Bus is the second the district has used.

"The other one gave up the ghost two years ago," said John W. Frombach, director of services.

He believes his district is one of the few in the state and the only one in Western Pennsylvania to have designed such a bus.

Pupils from kindergarten to fifth grade each year board the bus to watch a video and hear instruction about how to behave and not distract the driver, how to disembark in case of an emergency and how far to stand away from the bus.

The Child Check Mate alarm system requires the driver to go to the back and open and close the emergency door before he locks the bus at night.

The driver is then able to spot any child or lost items left on the bus.

A horn blows at one-second intervals if the driver forgets to do the child check. "It happens every once in a while," said Jim Kester, transportation manager.

"No driver wants to be the one everyone is turning and looking at while the horn is blowing," Frombach added.

Child Check Mate, marketed by a Canadian company, costs about $70 a bus or about $5,000 for the entire fleet, Frombach said.

Rob Moran, president and owner of Child Check Mates Inc., said the system was used in Canada's harsh weather for seven years and was introduced to the United States only after he received patent approval in January 1999.

Laidlaw Transit, which supplies bus transportation for several area school districts, has installed the system on 43,000 buses nationwide.

In the South Hills, Laidlaw supplies bus transportation for South Park and Keystone Oaks school districts, said Ron Pepper, area branch manager. Buses Laidlaw supplies for special activities in Mt. Lebanon and Brentwood school districts, both "walking" school districts, also are equipped with Child Check Mate.

It takes only 20 minutes to install and has a five-year warranty, Moran said.

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