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FLORENCE — Even with schools closed for the rest of the academic year, “we’re still holding out hope” for graduation ceremonies, Superintendent Chris Knutsen told the Florence school board on April 14.

“We have our high school folks working on coming up with various plans as the state begins to open up,” Knutsen said, but gave no further details.

State officials previously had said that seniors who were on track and eligible to graduate prior to schools closing will be allowed to graduate.

Meeting over the phone, the Florence school board adopted this and other policies in the Legislature’s and the state Board of Education’s emergency measures in a resolution.

For example, the resolution notes that state law requires students to receive a grade of 60% or higher on a civics test to graduate.

But per the state board’s guidance, schools should not withhold a diploma from a student who is unable to retake the test because of the public health emergency.

Board President Denise Guenther asked about the district’s requirement for community service hours. Assistant Superintendent Adam Leckie replied the resolution specifies that “all other additional yet unmet graduation requirements,” including community service hours, “are waived to the extent permitted by law, rule or regulation.”

The resolution also adopts a flexible grading practice for the remainder of the year.

Although the buildings are closed, Florence district teachers continue to work with students via Google Classroom.

According to the resolution, flexible grading means:

  • All grades are frozen in time on the date schools closed.
  • Students will be assigned only a minimal participation grade for assigned coursework.
  • Any student not completing assigned coursework will be provided an opportunity to complete all assigned work prior to the end of the school year.
  • No student’s grade will be negatively affected due to circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic national emergency and school closure.
  • Until the end of the regularly scheduled school year, students are to engage in learning opportunities to increase knowledge and may make up missed work or retake exams. All assigned coursework is for review, intervention and enrichment only.
  • At the end of the regularly scheduled school year, teachers of record may update grades to reflect new learning and related work, such as exam retakes and additional completed work.
  • Grades can only improve. They cannot get worse.

The board also approved an expansion of Skyline Ranch K-8 boundaries to include the new Fulton Homes development north of Hunt Highway, east of South Caballero Drive and south of Empire Boulevard. A staff report to the board said San Tan Heights K-8, with a capacity of 866 students, is full, but Skyline Ranch has barely over half its total capacity for 1,270 students.

Guenther and other board members said the district, although closed, has remained active. “I have enjoyed watching the announcements every morning on Facebook,” Guenther said.

She further noted the community has joined with school staff to help children by passing out lunches and reading books online.

“From the county supervisors to the sheriff’s department, the town of Florence, the Police Department and everybody has really stepped up and I appreciate all of that.”

Board Vice President Bob Dailey added, “I want to especially thank all the school folks who are out there making and serving meals and the bus drivers that are delivering them.”

Board member Jim Thomas said Florence K-8 staff and parents decorated their cars and paraded through local neighborhoods last week, and “it was really neat.”

Board member Steve Johnson said, “I just want to recognize our district for its leadership and ability to manage this pandemic. Just keep everybody safe and hopefully we can return to normal sooner rather than later.”

Knutsen said, “I couldn’t be prouder of the collective leadership of Florence Unified School District, from the classified staff all the way up to the administrators who have worked tirelessly to make sure this closure has been the least disruptive.”

With the board meeting by phone, there was no call-to-the-public opportunity for public comments.

In other business, the board tabled action to rescind its current Governing Board policy manual in favor of an updated document until its May meeting.

The board is scheduled to meet May 12 in the Poston Butte High School library, beginning with a work session at 5:30 p.m.


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at