School districts across the state are scrambling to meet onsite learning requirements set up by Governor Doug Ducey so they can access additional funding.
The executive order says all Arizona schools have to provide free onsite learning and support services for students by August 17 in order to receive funds from enrollment stability grants, which include a total of $370M in CARES Act money.
According to the Arizona Department of Education:
"Free onsite learning and support services include but are not limited to student supervision, nutrition, health services, strategic support, or teacher-led/paraprofessional support for students participating in distance learning. Onsite support services will be available to a limited number of students with specific needs and does not require traditional teacher-led in-person classroom instruction. These services allow students who need a safe place to go to engage in distance learning away from home. Schools may develop procedures to meet recommendations for physical distancing and other mitigation strategies outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."
Chris Kotterman, the director of governmental relations with the Arizona School Board Association, said there was confusion Friday about how to implement these services.
"The only mandate is that you provide it, there's no mandate for who has to be first or who has to be guaranteed," he said.
Kotterman said schools don't have criteria for who qualifies for these services. And in some districts, the majority of students come from lower-income families.
"When it comes to not reopening for full in-person instruction but having to offer onsite learning opportunities to a specific population of students, in some areas, it can be the same number of students."
It's a concern Paul Tighe shares as the superintendent of the Saddle Mountain School District, which is located in Tonopah, Buckeye and rural areas in far west Maricopa County. Tighe is also part of the organization Arizona School Administrators.
"Having the ability to bring them in and give some support while not having so many kids that you can't keep it safe, that's the balance we need to find," said Tighe.
State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman on Thursday said not every school needs to offer onsite learning, and districts can partner with community centers -- like a Boys and Girls Club. But Tighe said those aren't available in many rural areas.
"School is often the only community gathering spot, so in those areas, you also have stereotypically lower-income, less access to internet and higher needs," said Tighe.
Teachers at his schools are using classrooms for virtual lessons, so finding space will be a challenge.
"If they're in large numbers needing these services, we'll have an immediate problem with maintaining CDC guidelines and keeping everyone safe," said Tighe. Tighe said his district is creating a portal where parents can apply for those onsite services.
Districts have flexibility, but they're relying on the Department of Education. A spokesperson for the department said they'll be releasing more guidelines early next week.