Forsyth County Schools plans to have a “normal school year” in 2021-22 without the COVID-19 restrictions that were in place last year.
For as long as national and state mandates will allow, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden announced at the Board of Education regular meeting on Tuesday, July 20, that parents will be welcomed into schools to eat lunch with their kids, students will be able to go on field trips and the beginning of the year will kick off with open houses with family and friends.
On top of bringing back visitors and trips, the district plans to significantly cut back its COVID-19 protocols, like contract tracking and the quarantining of healthy students.
Last school year, Bearden said they ended up quarantining thousands of healthy students because they came into contact with someone who had tested positive. In the end, he said less than 1% of those students sent home ever tested positive for the virus themselves.
“I don’t have any criticism about being forced to quarantine students at the beginning of the pandemic because we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Bearden said. “But after a year of collecting data, I think we can make an argument that quarantining healthy students is not an appropriate mitigation strategy.”
FCS spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo clarified this also means parents and guardians will still be required to report COVID-19 test results to their school’s nurse, but the district will no longer share known student or staff cases on the district’s website.
Going forward, face masks will not be required for students or staff members, a change from the district’s previous rule, which required staff members to wear a mask when they could not remain socially distanced from students.
These cuts to FCS guidelines come despite a rise in cases in Georgia and nationally due to the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.
Bearden pointed out, however, that cases within Forsyth County remain low. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health,129 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported in the county in the past two weeks. This is counted out of Forsyth County’s more than 250,000 residents.
In neighboring Gwinnett and Fulton counties, these numbers remain significantly higher.
The superintendent also shared that more than 95% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Northside Forsyth Hospital are not vaccinated — information he said he received from Lynn Jackson, the hospital’s administrator.
According to the GDPH, 47% of residents in Forsyth County have been fully vaccinated, meaning they have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“We are constantly being told local data should drive local decisions, and that’s what we’re doing,” Bearden said.
He made clear that he receives information and data on COVID-19 cases on a daily basis and on vaccinations in the county on a weekly basis. Requirements and guidelines could change depending on this information.
The district has also not received final instructions from the DPH. Once they do, he said they will make that information public and update guidelines and plans as needed.
“As we did last year, our staff will be prepared to pivot if and when necessary,” Bearden said.
Principals at each FCS school already have a contingency plan in place in the case mandates change or if cases rise within the county.
Until then, the district will continue with its plan to begin the school year as normal with little to no restrictions in regards to the pandemic.
The board simply asks that families be careful and promote mitigation practices at home and at school. Many health experts, along with district leaders, have shared that one of the best ways to stop the spread of the virus is for individuals to regularly wash their hands and stay clean.
The district will continue to keep schools in Forsyth County clean, well maintained and stocked with any cleaning products and supplies they may need.
Board of Education Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey also asked that parents keep their child home if they notice they are sick or if they are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, a problem schools incurred many times through the last school year.
“Stay home until you have those results,” Morrissey said.
For more information, visit the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.
“I want to thank this board and our entire Forsyth County community, our parents, our staff, last year for being so patient, so supportive, so flexible, adaptable,” Bearden said. “I feel like we managed that situation very well considering the hand that was dealt us. I think our teachers performed heroically, and our students continue to perform at a very high level.”