Spencer chosen for bus pilot program

Saturday, January 12, 2013
Spencer Transportation Director Julie Nemmers serves on the board of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association. When she heard of the Student Detection System pilot program, she told Department of Education representative Max Christiansen that she wanted to be involved. Spencer will serve as one of three schools in the state to try out the new system before it's required for all buses in Iowa. (Photo by Kate Padilla)

On Halloween afternoon in 2011, 11-year-old Justin Bradfield stepped off of the school bus near his Janesville home and moved to cross the street. While crossing, however, he dropped something from his hand and bent to pick it up. The bus driver, not seeing him, assumed he had crossed safely.

Following the tragic death of their son, Justin's parents helped to start the SmileBIG Foundation, to remember and honor Justin.

The biggest goal of the foundation is to retrofit school buses with student detection systems: a series of motion sensors that surround the outside of the bus. The driver is notified whenever the sensors detect anything.

Before they can require buses to carry the SDS, however, the systems need to be tested. Three schools across the state were chosen to participate in a pilot program for the detection systems, located in Janesville, Mason City and Spencer.

When Spencer Transportation Director Julie Nemmers heard about the pilot program, she approached Department of Education representative Max Christiansen with her interest.

"I told him I wanted to be a part of it," she said. "It's horrible to lose a child."

The detection systems are a new technology from Rostra Precision Controls, Inc., a leading manufacturer of automotive parts and accessories, according to their website. The cost for installing the SDS in the pilot program is covered by the manufacturer, as per the criteria required for a pilot program under the Department of Education.

The SmileBIG Foundation is raising funds to equip all of the buses in the Janesville Community School District with the SDS.

Spencer school buses will be outfitted with the SDS within the next month at no cost to the district, and the data gathered will be monitored by the Dept of Education through the rest of the year.

"Upon completion of a pilot project, assuming we have favorable findings, we would then approve it for use in the state of Iowa for school buses," Christensen wrote in an email to Rostra Sales and Marketing Vice President Pete Kallgren.

"It's such a cool program," Nemmers said. "And it's a big deal to be chosen."

Nemmers serves on the board of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, and was excited to be able to use her contacts there to help Spencer earn this "great opportunity."

"Our focus needs to be on increasing safety," Nemmers said, "But they have to do a trial run. I think it's great."

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  • I have been driving school bus for several years and the scariest thing in the world is when you drop multiple students off. There is no way to watch them all as they make their way away from the bus. Parents can also teach their kids to just walk away from the bus. If they drop something, wait until the bus leaves to pick it up. These motion sensors are a great idea. Hopefully, someday soon, buses will come standard with them

    -- Posted by fireslayerdad on Sat, Jan 12, 2013, at 10:01 AM
  • I think this new program is amazing. hopefully it works and is the paving way for schools everywhere. I can't imagine how the driver and family feels regarding that tragedy.

    What bothers me is that I lived in Spencer at that time. Sure I may have had my head under a rock, and raising a special needs child is distracting. But I never even heard of the death. Why didn't the schools send something home... telling parents. So that we could discuss bus safety further with our children?

    -- Posted by IA-OK on Tue, Jan 15, 2013, at 11:30 AM
  • IA-OK they probably didn't send notice because the death wasn't in Spencer.

    -- Posted by joe2 on Tue, Jan 15, 2013, at 12:43 PM
  • Just to add to this, The Smile BIG Foundation is paying for all six sets of sensors that are being tested in this pilot program. To help raise money for this project we are selling clothing, bracelets, stocking caps, and we are having a benefit on April 6 at the Pepsi Pavillion on the National Congress grounds in Waterloo with a live auction, silent auction and two live bands. Come on out and help us raise money and awarness in honor of Justin Bradfield.....my son. Thanks and Smile BIG!!!!!!!! www.smileBIGfoundation.org

    -- Posted by RBradfield on Mon, Mar 4, 2013, at 3:09 PM
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