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'There's never going to be a best option for everybody' when schools reopen, expert says

Posted at 2:51 PM, Jun 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-14 17:51:44-04

As districts across Arizona start rolling out their plans to safely reopen schools, questions and concerns remain about how students, teachers and staff will stay safe.

"There's never going to be a best option for everybody. It's not going to be perfect," said Janine Menard, during a live-streamed Virtual Town Hall on the ABC15 Facebook page Thursday. Menard is a member of the Arizona School Counselors Association and current school counselor in the Tolleson Elementary School District.

WATCH: Experts weigh in as Arizona school reopening plans are released

"Just know that districts are working really hard and all we do is think about our students," said Menard.

The CDC and Arizona Department of Education recently released their guidelines for safely reopening schools, giving districts the recommendations needed to craft their own plans, specific to the needs of their communities. Most plans in the works so far include both in-person and online instruction options. Masks have been listed as optional for students, except during short periods of time like getting on and off the school bus.

Right now, safety concerns are especially heightened as the number of coronavirus cases in Arizona continues to rise rapidly. However, keeping schools closed for a prolonged period of time could also have a devastating impact.

"If anything good has come out of this pandemic, I think it's that people who hadn't quite thought of it before are really starting to understand the critical role that public schools play in the center of our community," said Chris Kotterman, director of government relations for the Arizona School Boards Association.

RELATED: Arizona school districts' reopening plans announced so far

"It is very clear that economics and education are completely tied together," said Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association.

AEA, the largest teacher membership group in the state, says more funding is crucial to giving students the added resources they will need once the new school year starts.

"We really need to have a statewide discussion about how we're funding schools because situations like this are going to continue to happen and we need to be prepared for them," said Garcia.

District governing boards are also waiting on local lawmakers for support, concerned they'll see a sharp drop in funding if parents choose not to send their kids to class when the year starts.

"The number one thing that we need from the legislature and governor is predictability, we need to know what our budget's going to be regardless of how many students show up on the first day," said Kotterman.

There's no word yet on if the governor will call a special session but we know he's been meeting with State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman to address some of these issues.

Meantime, Garcia, Kotterman and Menard all stress communication is key. Many districts are sending surveys to parents, students and teachers, to get their feedback on reopening, and Menard has the following advice for parents.

"Students need to know every step of the way what's happening, why it's happening, give them age-appropriate information, empower them so they can express their feelings, they can ask their questions," said Menard.