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FLORENCE — New lower COVID-19 infection levels triggered when a school would shift to a “hybrid” schedule, or a complete return to online learning, were approved by the Florence Unified School District board on Dec. 17.

A school would shift to a hybrid schedule, in which the student body is split into two groups that attend on different days, when active cases are at or above 1% for a high school or 1.5% for a K-8 school. Should cases increase to 2% or more at a high school or 3% for a K-8 school, that school would return to all-online “distance learning.”

These latest metrics differentiate between grade school and high school, and are lower than what the board previously approved on Dec. 8. At that time, the board voted that a 2% positivity rate in any school would trigger a hybrid schedule, and 4% would close the building for distance learning.

“The numbers I think are good, and if we see something major happening after the holidays, at that point we can reconvene and do something different. But right now I think this is a good model,” board member Bob Dailey said at the Dec. 17 special meeting.

Board Vice President Jim Thomas thanked the administration and “everybody who worked hard on this.” He continued that no one is advocating distance learning or even hybrid learning as what’s best for kids, and it would be wrong to close school based on figures that have no relationship to that school.

Board President Denise Guenther added the district always knew there would be COVID-19 cases, “there’s no way to make it zero.” The district is reporting cases to employees faster than the state is doing it to make sure staff and students are safe, “and that is what we will continue to do.” Local schools are below the percentages in the new plan, and “this is the best plan to move forward with,” Guenther said.

Superintendent Chris Knutsen said the Moderna vaccine will be given in Pinal County. Hospital workers were to receive it beginning Wednesday, followed by first responders and teachers. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

FUSD maintains a dashboard that shows positive numbers in schools and updates it daily. Visit fusdaz.com and scroll about one-third of the way down the home page and under the heading “Welcome-Safe-Connected,” click on “Active Cases by School.”

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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 mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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