Rural Arizona schools brace for reopening challenges

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Posted at 2:40 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 20:43:02-04

Reopening Arizona schools is a massive endeavor, complicated by the unknown and tight resources. Right now, districts across the state are working out the specifics of what "back to school" will look like and many smaller districts are facing even bigger challenges.

"The uncertainty in the rural districts is made much worse just by lack of resources and their isolation," said Wes Brownfield, executive director of the Arizona Rural Schools Association. "Everything that urban districts are facing, they're facing the same, they just have less to do it with. Especially when it comes to transportation, when it comes to online issues."

Brownfield says the more than 100 members in his organization are bracing for a rough road ahead, and while the Department of Education's recently released "Roadmap for Reopening Schools" is a guideline and not a mandate, implementing the suggested safeguards and distancing will be more difficult.

"Most of my rural districts, they're going to run out of classroom space real fast," said Brownfield. "I have rural districts that are trying to find masks and hand sanitizer that are on back order for at least 14 weeks. Plexiglass everywhere is on back order until November."

Rural districts are even more concerned over state funding shortfalls if parents choose to keep their kids’ home when the school year starts. State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman addressed the potential impact during an interview with ABC15 earlier this week.

"In a rural community, even losing just a couple of kids, or 10 kids, will be a huge hit to your budget," Hoffman said.

No word yet if the legislature will tackle the state's education funding formula in special session, but the governor's office did say it could be part of future budget talks and they are working closely with the state superintendent to find solutions.

In the meantime, Brownfield says his members will keep doing what they have always done.

"Rural districts, in particular, are just going to have to make do with what they have," he said.