Parents and community members recently started a petition, asking the Forsyth County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden to mandate face masks for individuals on all school property.
The petition, started just before the second semester of school after a group of FCS parents shared concerns about the district, asks that Bearden and the board “enact every possible safety measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 in and on all school property,” which, to many parents in the county, includes the mandating of masks for all individuals.
The petition points out that wearing a mask to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus during the pandemic is recommended by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Harvard Global Health Institute.
“It has been established that masks help diminish the spread of COVID-19,” the petition states. “While we recognize the school board cannot control what happens outside of the schools, you have the authority to control what happens within. Masks will keep more kids in school by diminishing spread while at school while also doing what is best for the community.”
An FCS parent sent the petition in an email to the board on Monday while it had more than 1,300 signatures. The number of signatures have continued to grow as parents and community members have shared the petition across social media platforms. As of approximately 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, more than 2,400 individuals had signed the petition.
After reviewing the petition and receiving concerned emails from parents, members of the Board of Education came together to put together a statement, which they provided to the Forsyth County News in an email.
“Through this difficult time, we want you to know we have received your emails, phone calls, petitions and feedback,” the statement reads. “We appreciate everyone’s concerns and understand this is a sensitive subject for every family.
“Currently, the Forsyth County Board of Education does not support a mask mandate for all students,” it continues. “All students and staff are expected to wear a mask when feasible: buses, classrooms, corridors, etc. All staff are required to wear a mask in the presence of students if they are unable to social distance. We have full confidence in the systems and policies that are currently in place and will continue to evaluate the data daily to keep our school communities safe. Thank you for your continued support and practice of COVID preventive actions: Mask Up, Wash Up, Back Up, Clean Up, and Cover Up.”
Bearden, along with Forsyth County principals, have put out reminders to students and parents throughout the first semester of school asking that they keep COVID-19 measures in mind both on and off their school campuses and encouraging them to wear masks when they can.
Despite the encouragement to wear face masks and follow safety measures, school leaders and community members noticed a drop in the number of students wearing face masks while at school, causing concern among some parents and students.
Some have shared their concerns with the board, including one mother, Kelly Morton, who attended a board meeting in November to ask that they mandate masks in school after she said her daughter gave up on a career pathway to switch to virtual learning. She said the lack of masks in school was too overwhelming for her daughter.
Other parents, teachers and students have echoed similar sentiments in comments that they wrote along with their signature on the petition, filled out via a Google Form.
Many of the comments are from parents and students who share that virtual learning has been difficult for them, and some commented they would much rather attend school in person. Without the guarantee of the added safety measure, though, they expressed concerns for their family’s health.
“I really struggle doing virtual school so I will do anything it takes, especially something as simple as wearing masks to get my education,” one student wrote. “Masks only work if everyone wears them.”
While some have brought concerns over the lack of masks to school leaders before, the petition was started right before the start of the second semester, which began for students on Wednesday, as many started to worry about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases following the holidays.
The school system saw a significant spike in cases following Thanksgiving break at the end of November, with the district reporting 165 positive cases among a total of 41,296 face-to-face students and staff the week following the break and another 204 cases in the week after that.
In the week before the break, FCS reported 70 total positive COVID-19 cases, the second highest number of cases that the district had seen in one week by that point in time. The highest number the district had seen was 80 cases, reported the week before.
Bearden predicted during the last BOE meeting in December that the district would see a similar spike at the start of the second semester. In the two days before the first day of school back for students, 215 face-to-face students and staff reported positive COVID-19 cases.
FCS Spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said that, despite the increase in cases within the school system in Forsyth County, cases are still low compared to surrounding districts.
For updates from FCS and more information about the district’s COVID-19 guidelines, visit forsyth.k12.ga.us.