Tomball ISD families have 10 days to choose face-to-face or virtual classes

Students in Tomball ISD can choose between face-to-face, on-campus instruction or Tomball Virtual School for the fall semester, district officials announced during a special-called virtual meeting July 9.

Families should have received a commitment form on July 13. They must select their decision by July 24 to aid the district in fall arrangements, according to Chief Academic Officer Amy Schindewolf.

"We are excited to welcome students back this fall. We are working to ensure a safe and productive environment for everyone," she said. "Parents will have the option of choosing the model that is best for their students."

Parents will select a model for the duration of the semester; however, TISD will allow parents to switch models at the end of the nine-week grading period if desired, she said.

"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 successfully work to staff, design master schedules, plan for classroom space and plan for both models of instruction so we can continue, regardless of which model a family chooses, that they get high-quality instruction," Schindewolf said.

For families who do not return the form by July 24, the district will assume the student will return for on-campus instruction, Schindewolf said.

For on-campus learning, the district will mandate face coverings while at school and on the bus, Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez said. According to the district's draft guidelines, TISD is still reviewing guidance from the Texas Education Agency that students age 10 years or younger are not required to wear a face covering; the district may decide that where social distancing is not possible, face coverings will be required at a younger age.

The district 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.

"We want this to be their choice, and (families) have the option of either/or. We will provide the high-quality of educational services the Tomball community has become accustomed to; we will continue that in either/or," Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said during the meeting. "The online will look different, very different than the spring. We pretty much turned a brick-and-mortar on a dime and made it virtual and did our very best. We will respect either choice. We just want to give parents the option."

Instructional models

Students opting to return to on-campus instruction this fall will do so amid heightened hygiene and disinfection measures as well as social distancing where possible, such as 3-6 feet between desks, plexiglass shields for staff who may be interacting with the public or working closely within 3-6 feet of students, and staggered transition times, Gutierrez said.

Students will also become familiar with Schoology, a learning management system for grades K-12 that board members approved purchasing on July 9 for $93,325 for the 2020-21 school year, regardless of on-campus or virtual instruction. The system will facilitate a seamless transition to learning at home, should students have to quarantine or school facilities close, Schindewolf said.

Tomball Virtual School will offer remote instruction for grades pre-K through 12th, Schindewolf said, with a combination of synchronous-real-time-and asynchronous-more individualized-instruction depending on grade level. For example, secondary students could see up to 70%-80% synchronous instruction whereas early learners could see mostly asynchronous instruction.

Regardless of the instructional model chosen, attendance will be taken and grades will be given consistently between on-campus and virtual instruction. The curriculum-although delivered in a different way-will be consistent across platforms, Schindewolf said.

"It is very important to note that this option will look very different than the remote learning in the spring," she said. "Remote learning that took place in the spring was in an effort to overnight allow students to be at home during a closure and to allow flexibility and balance between everything that families were dealing with. I don't want families opting for (face-to-face or virtual) with a misunderstanding of what Option 2 (virtual learning) is."

However, some classes may not be offered for virtual instruction, depending on class demand, the amount of hands-on requirements and staffing, district officials said. The list of classes available virtually is slated to be finalized in the next few days and will be shared within the window of families opting for virtual or on-campus instruction, Schindewolf said.

It is also still unclear whether students enrolled in virtual instruction could participate in extracurricular activities and other such electives and how that would look, Schindewolf said.

Students in Tomball Virtual School will follow a typical school day and be required to check in with their teachers at certain times, district officials said.

The virtual option is planned for the duration of the fall semester; beyond that, district officials said it is unclear whether the virtual option will continue.

"We really aren't starting the year saying 'It will look like this the whole year,' but it very well might be," Salazar-Zamora said during the meeting.

Student support

Students opting for on-campus instruction, but temporarily absent, will continue to be managed by the face-to-face teacher, not automatically enrolled into Tomball Virtual School, Schindewolf said.

For the duration of Tomball Virtual School, students needing accommodations or extra instructional assistance will continue having access to services, including English as a Second Language, gifted and talented, and bilingual education, according to district information.

"Every attempt will be made to replicate services for students with the understanding that some services may not be feasible in a virtual setting," draft district information states.

The district will also provide programming for students with dyslexia to access at home along with social and emotional learning opportunities for all students, regardless of the instructional model chosen, Schindewolf said.

Regarding students in special education, a remote learning plan can be created, according to district information. Although there are limits to individualized education programs within a remote setting, district officials said, "the district will make every effort to provide full IEP services."

Students receiving virtual instruction will continue to be connected to their home campus from which they will continue to receive communication and opportunities to engage in virtual activities throughout the year, according to district information.

Students switching between the two models after the nine-week grading period may have different teachers. Teachers may or may not teach both online and face-to-face classes.

To further support student needs during virtual instruction-such as device and internet access-Gutierrez said the district is looking at expanding its Park and Learn options, which provide drive-up Wi-Fi access at six TISD campuses. Park and Learn was rolled out this spring at various campuses to give families internet access during remote learning.

Health guidelines

In addition to requiring face coverings while students are in school and on the bus, parents and students must attest they have self-screened for COVID-19 symptoms before students arrive on school grounds or on a school bus, Gutierrez said.

Criteria that would exclude a student from attending school that day includes experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, having a lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and/or having been in close contact with an individual who has a lab-confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, according to district information.

"It's going to be implied if a student arrives to a campus or a bus stop to do school transportation that they are free of any of the exclusionary criteria," Gutierrez said.

Should a student become symptomatic for COVID-19 during a school day, the district's draft isolation plan dictates that the student be isolated in the school clinic and the parent be notified. To avoid further exposure, the child would be taken out to the parent/guardian upon arrival for pickup.

If an individual has been in a school and tested positive for COVID-19, the school must notify the Harris County Public Health department and close off areas that were heavily used by the individual to be cleaned, per the district's draft guidelines. The school must also notify all teachers, staff and families in the school.

To return to campus, Gutierrez said three days or 72 hours must have passed since the individual has had a fever or taken fever-reducing medications. The individual must also have improved symptoms, and at least 10 days must have passed from the onset of symptoms.

Gutierrez said if the individual has had COVID-19 symptoms, such as a sore throat, but does not want to stay home for the requested period before returning to campus, the individual must have a doctor's note declaring the individual does not have COVID-19, or the individual must receive two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

"We have a high expectation that our Tomball community is going to comply with what we're doing here," Board President Michael Pratt said during the meeting.

The district is also upping its sanitation measures to help stop the spread of the virus in the school, Gutierrez said.

In addition to daily classroom cleaning, a wipe down of commonly touched areas and increased frequency of cleaning those high-touch areas, such as door knobs will be implemented. All custodians will be equipped with a hand-held pump that includes a disinfecting mist to cover all the objects in the room between school days, Gutierrez said.

The district is also tentatively planning for additional cleaning to take place when students are outside the classroom at lunch or another activity, he said.

The district's enhanced sanitation plan-normally activated during a heavy flu season when 8%-10% of students are absent and HCPH is notified-features an electrostatic system where an antiseptic coating covers surfaces and objects 360 degrees, Gutierrez said, providing four times the disinfecting power of bleach.

Finally, the district will increase its education about good hygiene, including posting signage and talking to students about hand washing and other practices.

"None of us have had any experience with how to do this right," Salazar-Zamora said during the meeting. "We understand that there's a lot of emotion with this, but we do ask that people continue to be graceful and respectful during the process."

For more information or if you have questions about reopening, online courses or face-to-face classes, visit Tomball ISD's website.

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