The Houston Independent School District is augmenting its cleaning and sanitization efforts as a precautionary measure as officials continue to monitor the potential impact of COVID-19.
HISD has no confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, acting out of an abundance of caution, the district issued a 14-day self-quarantine for several individuals, all of whom recently returned from a country on the CDC travel warning list or are closely related to someone who did.
Impacted schools are being deep cleaned and sanitized as a precautionary measure. This includes fogging all rooms with CDC-recommended disinfectant and cleaning all air ducts, a common practice for potential cases of airborne viruses.
Transportation Services will stop making changes to existing routes at the end of March to allow the department to begin planning for the 2020-2021 school year.
Parents will no longer be able to request changes to existing routes starting Friday, March 27. Students with new transportation requests submitted after the cutoff date will be assigned to existing routes and stops.
“Planning for the next year is an essential part of ensuring we fulfill our mission,” General Manager John Wilcots IV said. “This deadline will allow us to shift our focus to scheduling and route planning for the coming 2020-2021 school year.”
Transportation Services is continuing to work with SafeStop to troubleshoot technical glitches resulting from incorrect application configurations.
For parents viewing open routes in SafeStop, it may have appeared as though the bus was stationary at the bus terminal.
To help address this and other issues, parents are encouraged to make sure they download all SafeStop software updates to ensure they have access to the latest data.
Transportation Services is continuing efforts to recruit new bus drivers, with monthly job fairs scheduled to begin next month.
The district has been working to address a bus driver shortage by adding more drivers to its roster. The job fairs will continue through July.
The Houston Independent School District’s Transportation Services department will spend the new year focusing on recruitment efforts as it works to hire 30 more drivers by March.
The department will begin hosting monthly bus driver job fairs in February 2020 as part of continuing efforts to make sure all routes are fully staffed, and additional drivers are available to provide coverage when employees are absent.
Transportation Services General Manager John Wilcots IV said three job fairs will be held each month — one on a Saturday and two on weekdays. The upcoming job fairs are expected to give the department a head start on staffing for the summer and the 2020-2021 school year.
Transportation Services is conducting a comprehensive review of bus ridership at schools with high transportation eligibility to identify opportunities for route consolidation and increased efficiency.
The review is focused on 15 schools with low ridership, despite having a high volume of students who are eligible for transportation and have been assigned routes.
Transportation Services General Manager John Wilcots IV explained that requests for transportation are often at their highest at the start of the school year. Once a request is made and the student is found to be eligible, the department is required to assign that student to a route and stop — even if they end up choosing not to ride the bus.
As a bus driver for the Houston Independent School District, Ethan Sowell knows his mission focuses on providing students with safe and reliable transportation to and from school.
But for Sowell, his job isn’t just about driving a bus. It’s about making a difference.
“Children can’t do anything about their situation,” Sowell said. “Somebody has to look out for them.”
That’s just what he did earlier this month when he noticed a student on his route had become especially quiet and withdrawn and appeared self-conscious, especially about his clothes.
Transportation Services is strengthening its focus on student and driver safety with the implementation of a new practice to address student conduct concerns on the bus.
The practice, which is being implemented this fall, addresses the procedures that bus drivers and Transportation Services leadership must follow when student conduct issues arise.
The new policy requires drivers to complete a Student Conduct Form and submit it to their terminal manager when a student incident — such as eating and drinking, fighting, or defacing the bus — occurs.
Transportation Services is updating the SafeStop bus tracking app to reflect temporary changes made to bus routes that do not yet have a permanent driver assigned due to an ongoing driver shortage.
Of the department’s 828 routes, about 10 percent — or 87 routes — do not have permanent drivers due to the shortage, which is impacting transportation organizations across the region.
As a result, stops on these open routes were temporarily reassigned to nearby staffed routes to ensure all students have safe and reliable transportation to and from school. This has caused some staffed routes to run longer than originally expected.
The district has designated five “Staff Development Days” for the 2019-2020 school year to be utilized for professional development at the school level. As a result, schools will release students early on those days throughout the school year.
On the following dates outlined below, elementary schools will be dismissed at noon, and middle and high schools will be dismissed at 1:10 p.m.
HISD Transportation Services will be adjusting bus schedules to ensure students are picked up at the early dismissal times, which will result in earlier delivery times to bus stops.