WINONA, Minn. — A tracking system that the First Student school-bus company has on all its vehicles failed when a Winona school bus driver got lost on the first day of school. Unclear was whether the driver had failed to activate the on-board Zonar device or inadvertently turned it off. When a company dispatcher realized the bus was missing, a supervisor went looking for it. It is known that First Student has had a driver shortage. Drivers were being hired at the last minute, some lured by a $3,000 signing bonus and pushed through hurried emergency training sessions. When the supervisor found he bus, mayhem erupted, according to a mother who separately had been searching frantically two hours for her child on the bus.


Jessica Brown, who had a child on the bus: ‘When I finally found the bus, was packed with kids hanging out the windows like monkeys. There was no organization or control over this bus or these kids. A small child ran off without any parent or adult around into the streets. The bus driver’s helper chased after the child but was unable to stop the child. That child easily would have been hit if there was a car coming.”

Zonar profile

First Student installed Zonar devices on its whole fleet of 44,000 vehicles in 2019. In a publicity announcement, the company claimed the system would verify pre-trip, post-trip and child-check inspections.  A diagnostic device also would track and manage vehicles for real-time transmission of vehicle subsystem data.

School bus drivers

Minnesota law requires a school bus driver to have a driver license pecial endorsement. Testing for renewal is required every for years. An exception is for vehicles for 10 or fewer occupants. These include passenger cars, station wagons and vans. Pay typically starts at $20 an hour.