Officials with Forsyth County Schools will be encouraging students and staff members to wear face masks while indoors as part of its Keep Forsyth Safe COVID-19 prevention campaign.
Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden made the announcement in a letter to parents and guardians Friday morning, making clear that the masks are not required for either students or staff members.
“Students will not be disciplined, badgered or bullied for their choice to wear or not wear a mask,” Bearden wrote in the letter. “We will respect the choices of our families and our staff.”
As part of the campaign, beginning on Monday, Aug. 23, principals at each of the schools will use announcements, parental notifications and school social media platforms to encourage students and staff to wear masks, when possible, in the schools and on buses.
They also want to encourage families to continue following COVID-19 guidelines laid out by the Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include making sure students wash hands frequently, remain socially distant from others, covering up mouths when coughing or sneezing and keep workspaces clean.
Masks are available in each school’s front office for students who need them.
“We need your help to Keep Forsyth Safe,” Bearden wrote.
The campaign comes in light of a significant rise of COVID-19 cases in the community and in the schools.
Bearden stated in the letter that, as of Friday morning, there were 781 active student COVID-19 cases and another 96 staff cases, making up 1.57% and 1.67% of those face-to-face populations, respectively.
That accounts for a total of 877 active cases within FCS — more than double the number of cases since Monday morning.
With the rapid growth in cases in communities across the U.S., many parents have taken to social media and, more recently, to the Forsyth County Board of Education’s meeting on Tuesday to ask that district leaders consider mandating face masks in schools.
Lori Gunther, a parent in the county, said she works as a counselor, currently helping nurses in the area through the pandemic. She spoke at the board meeting Tuesday among a wave of others there to discuss the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan.
She explained that, through her work, she has seen the current impact of COVID-19 on the area health care system and its workers, who she says are exhausted both from the rise in COVID-19 cases and the labor shortage.
By wearing face masks and sticking to guidelines, Gunther believes FCS and the community can help to relieve some of the stress put on health care workers while keeping Forsyth’s kids safe.
“I ask you, as the school board, to reconsider the mandate as you have reconsidered the contact tracing to protect our kids and the system as a whole,” Gunther said.
On the other hand, Ed Solly, another parent in the county, expressed his frustration when he found out there would be restrictions or COVID-19 mitigation strategies set for the 2021-22 year after Bearden originally announced the district would try to have a “normal” school year without limitations on visitors, field trips and more.
At the meeting Tuesday, he said he couldn’t wait to visit his daughter at school during her third-grade year at Poole’s Mill Elementary, but he found out at her orientation that it would be the first and last time he would be able to visit until after Labor Day.
Other parents and residents have specifically opposed a mask mandate within the school system, thankful that district leaders have given families the choice of what works best for them.
Patricia Wall, another resident who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, reminded the board that face masks have been proven to help slow the spread of the virus and that politics should not skew families’ decisions on whether or not to wear a mask.
Overall, she said it would help to eventually stop the continual rise in COVID-19 cases the community is now seeing.
“This is not a political statement or an invasion of your liberties,” Wall said. “This is a life-saving medical device.”
Since this past week, FCS has been posting public reports to its website, www.forsyth.k12.ga.us, each day at 9 a.m. to show how many COVID-19 cases are currently active in the school system.
Active COVID-19 cases refer to each individual who has tested positive for the virus. The reports, however, do not reflect a cumulative case count. According to the website, cases for a given day are determined based on the expected return dates of those affected.
This means when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, it will be counted in the report as an active case for the next 10 days while they are expected to be in quarantine at home.
For more information and later updates, visit the district’s website.