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It only takes four simple words to make any parent’s greatest nightmare a reality: “your child is missing.”

I should know — it happened to me when my son didn’t come home from school one day.

Would you believe me if I said that nearly 5,000 students a year are left on school buses in the United States and Canada? In the same breath, what if I told you that experts estimate there could be as many as one of these incidents per school district a year? Knowing these statistics, wouldn’t you feel better knowing there’s some way we could monitor our kids on these buses? Certain school districts around the country have proposed installing electronic tracking devices on the backpacks of elementary school children who ride school buses.

You may be thinking that it’s not necessary, and maybe even a little overboard to place a computer chip on your child’s bag — but before I address the concerns of Big Brother watching your child, let me start with a personal story that prompted me to become an advocate for these devices.

My son Jacob, eight at the time and in third grade, gave me the fright of my life when he didn’t get off the school bus one particular day. We had gotten into a well-rehearsed routine where every other day, when I worked from home, I’d meet Jacob at the bus stop at the end of our street and we’d walk home together. The days when I was at the office, he’d take the bus to daycare. Point being, he had our schedule down pat and never missed a beat — until that horrible day when, as planned, I waited for the bus to drop him off at the end of our street. The bus came — and went — driving by me without dropping anyone off!

If you’re reading this as a parent, you can only imagine and hopefully you’ll never have to know, the horror and wild images that flashed across my mind when my baby didn’t come home.

As soon as the bus whizzed by me without Jacob, I raced home and called daycare to check if he went there by mistake. No Jacob. I called the school, still no Jacob. At this point I spoke to his teacher who informed me that Jacob left the classroom presumably to catch the bus home.

More wild images flashing through my mind. I was almost in hysterics and certainly panic stricken. He didn’t have a cell phone at this time and cell service was spotty in our area. I kept reassuring myself that he’s a levelheaded kid, but I also understood that he was only 8 years old! What if someone overpowered him (picture a skinny third grader) and grabbed him after school? Or what if he got off at the wrong stop and someone nabbed him as he walked through the strange neighborhood?

• Click here to read Lis' Column, "Lis and the Single Girl"

You can only imagine the thoughts I was starting to have. What’s worse, neither the school nor daycare had any ideas on how to locate him or where to start looking. Finally, I got a hold of the central number for the bus drivers and after what seemed like hours (really just an excruciating 15 minutes), they gave me the number for the “shed” where they housed the buses after a shift. Again, no Jacob and no one had seen a missing 8 year old. I begged them to check the buses and literally, with my hand on the dial pad ready to call the cops, officials found him sleeping on the bus — tucked in the back. Jacob was sound asleep, not having a clue how frantic I was!

Several school districts around the country have proposed implementing tracking devices on kids’ backpacks in an effort to improve bus efficiency and keep parents better informed during delays and bus routes. Most recently, a school in Rhode Island plans to install radio frequency identification chips (RFID) on the bags of 80 elementary school children who ride the bus, says Ed Collins, Middletown Pubic School’s facilities manager. Just three years ago, Earnie Graham, the superintendent of Brittan Elementary School District in Sutter, Calif. said he had student safety and teacher convenience on his mind when he ordered his 590 elementary and junior high kids to be the first in the Golden State to wear these electronic security badges. But not everyone’s in favor of the chip.

In a scathing response to Middletown’s plan, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union blasted the Aquidneck Elementary School’s plan to install the tracking devices. The ACLU says the plan raises enormous privacy and security concerns. “We hope that (safety) is a goal that school district procedures already address without the need to tag and track students like cattle,” said ACLU’s Rhode Island Director Steve Brown. Additionally, on the West Coast, Graham’s “voyage to the new frontier” got him in a whole world of trouble after revealing his ideas. The ACLU in Northern California, as well as other national privacy groups, objected to the mandatory badges saying their use is “more than offset by the danger posed in implementing this new technology.” They said the chip jeopardizes more than privacy, also their safety as each device includes the child’s name, grade,= and an identifying number that is recognized by the reader.

I concede that there certainly is a privacy argument to be made and as the Supreme Court in the famous Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Board case underscores, “students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school gate.” However, I see this as less privacy issue and more a safety issue, safety winning on balance. Not just anyone can get their hands on the name and grade of the child and when more than 5,000 students don’t get off school buses a year, I’m highly in favor of a way to find them.

Additionally, if you need more convincing evidence, these devices can prevent other school nightmares like kidnappings, school bus hijackings, bus drivers soliciting sex whole en-route and bus drivers taking side trips to buy crack. Yes, all of these are very real examples of what has and can happen on the short trip from school to your house. I was lucky, I found Jacob, but it was the worst half an hour of my life. If he had one of these chips on his backpack, this never would’ve happened.

• Click here to read Lis' Column, "Lis and the Single Girl"


• Student tracking devices cause controversy for school
Bethel School District v. Fraser (478 U.S. 675, 1986)
RI School District Pilots Tracking Devices on Kids' Backpacks
Students Left Behind a Growing National Epidemic
Chowchilla School Bus Hijacking
“School Bus Driver in Drug Arrest,” New York Times, January 6, 1989
“Official: Driver Stopped School Bus to Solicit Undercover Cop for Sex,” December 20, 2007, Associated Press


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.