Here’s what bus transportation, lunch and recess will look like this fall for Tomball ISD students

Tomball ISD'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. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Tomball ISD'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. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Tomball ISD'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. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Tomball ISD outlined its health guidelines, transportation logistics and virtual instruction models for the fall semester during the more than five-hour July 9 meeting. A record 1,000 participants tuned in via Zoom. Read about the instructional models, student support and health guidelines shared here.

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.

Transportation

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.

Lunch

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.

Recess

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.
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball | Magnolia & Conroe | Montgomery

Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor for the Tomball|Magnolia edition. She began covering the communities of Conroe and Montgomery as well in 2020. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.



MOST RECENT

The University of St. Thomas is a private Catholic college in Houston. It also has a microcampus in downtown Conroe. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of St. Thomas offering free tuition to first 500 students who apply

The online degrees are in the following fields: cybersecurity, network technology, electronic technology, general business, and alcohol and drug dependency counseling.

Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 has begun construction on the first of three phases for its new 43-acre, state-of-the-art campus located in Spring, according to a May 7 news release. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 begins construction on new 43-acre campus

The campus will house ESD No. 11's new ambulance service, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 4 when the district's contract with current service provider, Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, expires.

Tomball Star Academy will celebrate its senior class May 27 with a graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. at the Magnolia Event Center, according to district information. Students will graduate virtually from LSC-Tomball on May 13, according to LSCS information. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
'They’ve created the legacy:' Inaugural class to graduate May 27 from Tomball ISD's early college high school program

The inaugural class of 95 students has been instrumental in paving the way for the students yet to finish the program, said Kelly Marchiando, the principal of Tomball Star Academy since January.

The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a significant shortage of nurses by 2032. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Why Texas faces a growing nursing shortage and what can be done to address it

In 2018, the state health department estimated about 11% of the demand for nurses was not able to be met, and that number is expected to rise to 16.3% by 2032.

HTV
Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Local leaders criticized the area chamber of commerce for not taking a definitive stance on two voting access bills currently being deliberated in the Texas Legislature.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The annual event begins at noon May 6. (Courtesy city of Tomball)
Tomball to host National Day of Prayer event May 6

The annual event begins at noon May 6.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens on FM 1488 in Magnolia

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia.

A groundbreaking was held April 22 for The Medical Center of Tomball. (Courtesy Arch-Con Construction)
Medical Center of Tomball breaks ground

A ground breaking was held April 22 for Phase 1 of the The Medical Center of Tomball.

Harris County ESD 11 plans to hire 150 individuals to staff its new ambulance services. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 aims to hire 150 staff to launch new EMS

The district launched its hiring effort in late April and held a virtual job fair April 29-30 to attract candidates.