TAMPA — Public school starts today in Hillsborough County, with buses rolling so early that your elementary or high school child may have left before you read this.
Still, here are some useful reminders:
• Expect delays. Even though the school district put its 1,100 buses on the road Monday for a trial run, the first day of school is confusing to a lot of new parents, and everyone needs to get used to the routine. Call (813) 982-5500 if you have any transportation-related problems. Be patient if you're driving your child, and be on the lookout for parents and kids darting into the road. Slow down for school speed zones.
• Meet your kindergartener at the afternoon bus. If you can't be there, make sure an older sibling or a neighbor the child knows will be there. Bus drivers are instructed to bring kindergarteners back to the school if no one accounts for them.
• Tell your kids that salad is their friend. Schools are offering salad bars, smoothies and more fresh fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria. This might be the year your child graduates from tan food.
• Stow the cell phones. The official policy is: "We see it, we take it." That means your child will need to turn off and put away the mobile phone during school hours and while on the bus. Have your child talk to the teacher if he or she needs to reach you midday.
• Early release is every Monday. To give teachers planning time, schools will dismiss one hour early every Monday beginning this Monday, Aug. 29. At most elementary and middle schools, you can sign your child up for the after-school H.O.S.T. program at a discounted rate of $20 for Mondays only.
• Say goodbye to courtesy busing. The district has been phasing out bus rides within 2 miles of schools and rides to county parks that used to offer after-school programs. Assume that if your child goes some place other than home after school, you need to arrange for transportation.
• Pay attention to the paperwork. As always, your child will hand you a thick stack of forms the first day, including everything from a media release form to an invitation to join the PTA. Be sure the school has at least one current daytime phone number for emergencies. The school also needs a good number for those automated ParentLink phone calls.