Tomball ISD Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora announced to families in a letter, July 10, the district’s return to school options for the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents will have the choice of picking from two full-time instructional options — in-person on campuses and virtual online learning — for the upcoming fall semester with safety measures in place when school starts, Tuesday, August 18.
“Every decision we make as a whole will continue to be with safety in mind,” Salazar-Zamora said.
Preferences for the instructional model of choice must be made by July 24 via an electronic commitment form for each student, that will be sent to families this upcoming Monday.
The Tomball ISD school board held a special meeting Thursday, July 9, to discuss reports on the return to school plan and grade point average calculations. The outline for the five-hour meeting was on academics followed by safety, connectivity, transportation and the importance of continuing to support staff and educate students.
Chief Academic Officer Amy Schindewolf said parents will have the option of picking the model that is best for their son or daughter but that the deadline comes with a short turnout time.
“We are hoping that you understand that it’s important to get that information back as quickly as possible because it is July and going to be late July and we want to work to successfully staff, design master schedules, plan for classroom space and plan for both models of instruction,” Schindewolf said. “So, that we can continue, regardless of which model a family chooses, that they get high quality instruction.”
Families with no decision made by that Friday will automatically be placed in the face-to-face instructional model.
“We are asking for them to make the selection thru a commitment form and we are asking them to consider opting for the model for a semester,” Schindewolf said. “However, we will allow parents to change the model for their students at the end of the grading period.”
Heightened hygiene and disinfection protocols will be in place for students attending school, who will be required to wear facial coverings on campus and socially distance three-six feet apart when possible.
For students opting with virtual school, the option will be different from the 2020 spring semester remote learning model. But both options will have similar expectations for courses and grading guidelines.
During the special meeting, the board approved the purchasing of PowerSchool Schoology, their online learning program, for the calendar year which the letter states will offer, “professional development and Schoology Learning Management System for PK-12 through June 30, 2021.”
Virtual online learning will be both synchronous and asynchronous, with required attendance taken and some courses may not be offered. According the letter, “grades will be taken and averaged into yearly average and GPA consistent with in-person learning.”
On-campus students will also adapt to the new online learning program in their classrooms which be also be assessable to them away from school if needed.
Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez said that since the previous spring semester they’ve distributed over 1,000 Chromebooks for students that indicated they had a need for devices.
“We are prepared with additional Chromebooks should students indicate they would prefer Tomball Virtual School,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said that they have a limited number of devices for students to check out and want to ensure they have what they need to access the curriculum. He added that they have taken some measures and done research to find out how they can provide families with free or low-cost internet access.
He said they’ve updated Wi-Fi capabilities at the six current Park-N-Learn spots at Tomball Junior High School, Oakcrest Intermediate, Rosehill Elementary, Decker Prairie Elementary, Creekview Elementary and Lakewood Elementary, where families can pull up to one of the locations and access free service from the exterior of the building.
“We are working with James Watson our director of technology, looking at possibilities at expanding Park-N-Learn options at other schools,” Gutierrez said. “So, we’ll continue to look at that to see where the need is and how often families are accessing that Park-N-Learn station.”
Gutierrez said they’ve been assisting eligible families at risk or low-income families connect with providers like AT&T and Verizon for low-cost internet service.
“We are still committed to looking for opportunities to help families access the internet and access resources,” Gutierrez said.
Regarding extracurricular activities, the letter states says that ultimate decision will be made once info is obtained from the state and UIL.
Parents can visit the Tomball ISD website for additional information regarding safety protocols and plans, and beginning July 13, to go over information for each instructional option and look over the FAQ page.
Salazar-Zamora said there could possibly be a three-week wait where districts could choose to push their start time back three weeks.
“That’s an option that we really haven’t had enough time to digest because we just received it,” Salazar-Zamora said.