The district’s plans include continuing to provide bus transportation to all families who desire it—although district officials encourage families to provide their own transportation if possible—lunch procedures varying by campus, and limiting large group activities, including recess.
Families who can provide transportation for their student to and from school are encouraged to do so, Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez said during the meeting. However, the district will continue to provide bus transportation for all families who register for transportation services, he said, including those within 2 miles of TISD campuses.
“Unlike other school districts, we transport anybody who wants transportation. Lots of districts limit the use of transportation to those that exceed 2 miles from a campus or 2 miles from a bus stop,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said the district toyed with reducing ridership to 25% and eliminating ridership for those live within 2 miles of school campuses, among other options. However, he said neither option is practical, as 25% ridership is not fiscally sustainable, and eliminating ridership for those who live close to campuses is not safe with so many areas of the district lacking sidewalks.
“The problem with that is there are many students who have what is considered a ‘hazardous route’ to school. That is defined by being no clear path to school; there is no clear walkway. There are some major roadways or roads that do not have sidewalks [such as Boudreaux or Telge roads],” Gutierrez said. “We understand that we may increase the safety on the bus by reducing the ridership, but we will be inadvertently putting students in danger by having them cross dangerous roads without sidewalks and a clear path to school. That is not something we’re comfortable with.”
Of the district’s approximately 18,000 students, about 50%—or 9,187 students—opted for bus transportation in the 2019-20 school year. Gutierrez said the district would have to cut its ridership by about 75% to follow initial guidance released for summer school, meaning only 15-20 students—instead of the 70-plus—could be on each bus. That said, the district will require students to wear face coverings while on the bus as well as in school.
“We had a very difficult challenge, just like all the things that were presented here ... between balancing access to education and the services to get you to education and the safety of our students. ... It is one [decision] we do not take lightly,” Gutierrez said. “That balance between access and safety is one that is filtered through all of these decisions.”
Before boarding the bus, students will receive hand sanitizer. When possible, bus windows will also be opened for greater air circulation, Gutierrez said. Additionally, drivers will mist the buses to disinfect surfaces between waves of students, he said.
School start times may be slightly altered to allow for more time to disinfect buses between groups of students and better control traffic flow through school campuses.
“At this point, there may be some tweaking, but for the most part we plan to have the school day—the hours and times—to look similar,” Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said during the meeting.
The district will ask families to register for transportation and then plan accordingly so those students can be equally distributed between buses so as not to overload some buses, Gutierrez said.
“We will allow parents to self select into transportation,” he said. “When we do the annual enrollment and you select either face-to-face or virtual [instruction], there will also be a question to say will you be utilizing transportation?”
Families can register for bus transportation for the morning, afternoon or both, he said.
“We will be asking families to register for transportation so we have an accurate account of how many students are on the bus so we can adequately plan to distribute the number of students on the bus,” Gutierrez said.
During the school closure starting in March through late June, TISD distributed more than 300,000 free meals to students, Gutierrez said.
For students choosing virtual instruction this fall, a plan is still in the works for how meals may be distributed, Gutierrez said during the meeting. This could look like a cluster of schools having one designated location for curbside meals. Students could receive meals regardless of their socioeconomic status—whether meals would be free, reduced price or paid—but the specifics of the curbside program are dependent on various government waivers that would allow the district to do so, he said.
Principals will have four different options for face-to-face dining, Gutierrez said, such as going to the cafeteria to get food and then going to a designated area or eating in the classroom with social distancing—which could be the case in lower grade levels.
“We’re going to try to limit the [standing] around or waiting in line for food or just the seating, whether it be in the classroom or the cafeteria,” he said. “We have several plans, but it will be in concert with the campus administration to pick the one that will best suit their school environment.”
For students seeking a drink throughout the day, TISD is installing refill stations for personal water bottles throughout several campuses to replace the traditional water fountains amid heightened health guidelines, Gutierrez said.
Like lunch times, Salazar-Zamora said the district is trying to minimize large group activities for students, including recess and physical education.
“Currently, [the state is] asking that we not do [recess]. ... The request right now is that just as we are very cautious about bringing all children together at lunch time, for example; they are asking that we minimize those types of large group activities,” Salazar-Zamora said during the meeting. “We will be flexible and see what we can do to allow our students that stretch time and opportunity, but it won’t be necessarily in the whole group.”
Although it is still unclear how athletics and extracurricular activities will work this fall—both for virtual and on-campus students—draft guidelines for Tomball Virtual School state students selecting virtual instruction will be provided activities to participate in physical education and fine arts opportunities at home.