Three students came to school with COVID-19 symptoms or pending COVID-19 test results during the first two days of the new school year, according to the Forsyth County Schools district, an early test of the school system’s decision to reopen campuses for face-to-face learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an email to parents over the weekend, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said sending students who are symptomatic or have pending test results to school “will compromise our ability to keep our schools open.”
“If symptomatic children continue to come to school, we are going to be directed by the Department of Health to quarantine more students and staff,” Bearden said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
The impact of those students’ attendance isn’t immediately clear. FCS will not publish information about the number of students and staff that are in quarantine from being directly exposed to someone with COVID-19, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo.
FCS is posting daily updates of when schools are notified of positive cases on its website, but that doesn’t mean the student or staff member was present at the school on that day. Last week, the district reported single positive cases at Denmark, Lambert and West Forsyth high schools.
“We are publishing positive results that are confirmed cases,” Caracciolo said, “not direct exposures that are possibilities.”
She added, “We don’t want to cause undue fear.”
School leaders have previously said that it will follow guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health when a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. That could lead to any number of scenarios, from single classes or hallways closing to the entire school district.
Neighboring districts have seen their plans to reopen for in-person instruction complicated by the coronavirus. On Sunday, Creekview High School became the third in Cherokee County to close and move to online learning as 500 of its 1,800 in-person students are under “precautionary quarantine,” according to the Cherokee County School District.
Cherokee and Forsyth were the two largest school districts in metro Atlanta to offer in-person instruction to start the school year as other districts scrapped plans to reopen campuses amid a surge of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 in July.
About two-thirds of Forsyth County’s over 51,000 public school students opted to learn in-person to start the school year, and the school district rolled out a host of new policies and safety measures to try to mitigate the spread of the virus under its “Restart Forsyth” plan.
Part of the plan asked those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or are sick to stay home to minimize exposure.
“This is our new normal,” Bearden said in his letter to parents, “and we all need to form new habits. It takes a little time but I do believe if we will all work TOGETHER, we can keep all of our schools open.”