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Forsyth County Schools to offer online learning to all students to start 2020-21 school year
School system intends to begin school year with in-person instruction
Midway First Day 6 080219 web
Midway Elementary School welcomed students and families for the first day of the 2019-20 school year on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. - photo by Brian Paglia

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The Forsyth County Schools system on Thursday announced it plans to begin the 2020-21 school year with in-person instruction but also extend online learning options to all students as the school system continues to develop its plan to reopen amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

The plan, called “Restart Forsyth,” was updated to state more firmly the school system’s intention to begin the school year on Aug. 6 with face-to-face learning. Officials have said they prefer starting the school year in person as it’s a critical time for students and staff to form relationships. 

Forsyth County Schools’s reopening plan lays out dozens of new safety measures to curb the spread of the virus, including screening students and staff before entering buildings, disinfecting school buses before and after every route, and having students eat lunch in their classroom. 

But students also have the option to learn virtually, though the school system cautioned that online learning for elementary-aged students “will be a significant commitment” for parents or guardians. 

“Families need to understand this will not look the same as the virtual experience this past spring,” the school system said. “The expectations and rigor will mirror face-to-face instruction, and virtual students will have a full school day Monday-Friday.” 

Under the plan, middle school and high school students who want to learn virtually could enroll in Forsyth Virtual Academy, which offers 18-week semester courses, while FCS is creating a new online learning program through itslearning for K-5 students. 

That program will be structured like a regular school day and include more video content from instructors than students received in the spring when schools were ordered to close, Caracciolo said. Students can opt in and out every quarter, which last nine weeks, according to Jennifer Caracciolo, director of public information and communication. 

In addition, students may be paired with instructors from schools outside their own district, which means their teacher could change if they choose to return to learning in the classroom.

The school system plans to host a series of virtual information meetings for parents and guardians the week of July 6. Families can start signing up for virtual learning June 26 with a deadline of July 10. 

School officials are setting up the new virtual learning program as they anticipate a severe drop in state funding prompted by the coronavirus. State agencies have been ordered to cut 11% from their budgets. That’s an improvement from the previous 14% cuts ordered but would still amount to a loss of over $28 million for Forsyth County Schools. 

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said he plans to avoid layoffs by amending the school calendar. The school system's update Thursday also mentioned several cost-saving measures, including a hiring freeze on all non-teaching positions; postponing planned salary increases; restricting “non-essential” employee travel; and reducing department budgets. 

Budget and school calendar changes, along with the school system's final reopening plan, won’t be approved until July. 

Edit (June 18, 2020, 9:45 p.m.): Forsyth County Schools Director of Public Information Jennifer Caracciolo clarified that the optional online learning program for K-5 students is available for the entire school year and can be opted in and out of each quarter.