By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent says contact tracing, daily public case reports will begin again Monday
District updates COVID-19 mitigation strategies for fourth time
ACE
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden speaks to the crowd at the Academies for Creative Education grand opening on Saturday, July 24, 2021. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Update (Friday, Aug. 13, 1:03 p.m.) — Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden announced on Friday, Aug. 13, that all schools will begin COVID-19 contact tracing again beginning on Monday, and the district will continue with its daily public case reports from last school year.

“When we closed out the 20-21 school year, we were all feeling optimistic that the end of this pandemic was in sight,” Bearden wrote in a letter to parents. “Unfortunately, that is not our current reality.”

He reported that, as of Friday, there were 269 active COVID-19 cases among students and another 61 active staff cases, making up 0.54% and 1.06% of those populations, respectively.

In light of these rising case numbers, Bearden felt it was necessary to update mitigation strategies for FCS once again. The district’s COVID-19 guidelines have been updated three other times — on July 20, Aug. 3, and earlier this week on Aug. 9.

Beginning on Monday, the district will be contact tracing again, meaning students will be assigned to seats in classrooms and on buses so school leaders will be able to notify parents and guardians when their child has come within six feet of an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer.

When a parent is notified that their child has been exposed to COVID-19, they still have the option of choosing to send their child back to campus or keep them home in self-quarantine to learn through the district’s online platform, ItsLearning.

If a child is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or awaiting test results, they are still required to remain at home.

While Bearden originally announced that the district would be posting public COVID-19 case reports from its schools weekly, the new announcement states that the district will be going back to daily reports beginning on Monday.

“If necessary moving forward, additional mitigation strategies may be added, which will also be shared on our district website,” Bearden wrote.


Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden clarified the district’s decision to add COVID-19 mitigation measures at the Board of Education’s work session on Tuesday, Aug. 10, pointing to rising cases and parent concerns.

The district originally posted the announcement about the added measures to its website on Monday, Aug. 9.

The new measures for all FCS schools in the 2021-22 year include:

●     Whenever possible/feasible, schools should keep students spread out during lunch and avoid holding large indoor gatherings;

●     All curriculum nights will be virtual;

●     When face-to-face meetings are essential, schools should have attendees’ social distance to the extent possible;

●     Field trips that have already been approved may continue, but no new field trips will be scheduled until further notice. Trips that are curriculum-related, such as Junior Achievement and CTAE, may continue;

●     Nonessential visitors are not permitted inside schools. Schools will still allow mentors, student teachers, and others who are there to support curriculum/instruction.

Bearden said at the meeting Tuesday that these new updates are mainly meant to help avoid large crowds from gathering in the schools, which means limiting visitors and in-person events.

He and other district leaders felt these additional measures were necessary considering rising COVID-19 cases in the Forsyth County community and the more contagious Delta variant.

 

Keeping up with COVID-19 in schools

As of Tuesday morning, Bearden said there were 135 reported active COVID-19 cases among students and another 35 active staff cases, making up 0.26% and 0.61% of these populations, respectively.

This announcement came after three full days of the 2021-22 school year.

He compared the case numbers to those the district saw at the peak of the pandemic last winter, with more than 220 student cases and more than 70 staff cases.

Case counts in August last year, however, were much lower, reaching peaks of about 30 cases among in-person students and staff in a full week of school. Cases did not rise over 100 in one week until the end of November last year going into the winter and upcoming holidays.

After hearing concerns from families, the district decided that it would publish a weekly public report on the number of active COVID-19 cases in its schools, with the first report published Friday, Aug. 13.

Depending on the situation and local data, Bearden said the district could eventually go back to reporting cases daily as they did last school year. They also plan to continue to change guidelines as needed.

“We will continue to monitor every day,” Bearden said.

 

Possible exposure reports and quarantine options

During the meeting, Bearden also addressed questions and confusion he and school leaders have heard from parents since the start of the school year last week. Many of these questions have been about the district’s COVID-19 exposure reports and quarantine guidelines

Last school year, school leaders notified families if their child came within six feet of an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 for a period of time, which they were able to do through contact tracing. If a student was exposed to the virus, they were required to quarantine at home.

Beginning with this school year, the district has not been contact tracing, but district leaders still feel it is necessary for parents to know when their child has possibly come into contact with an individual who has tested positive.

With that in mind, school staff is currently sending out notifications to families if an individual in the child’s classroom has tested positive for COVID-19. Bearden pointed out middle and high school parents will receive more notifications since students have several classes throughout the day.

When parents receive a notification that their child may have been exposed to COVID-19, they currently have the choice to either continue sending their child back to school or keep them at home to self-quarantine and temporarily learn through the district’s online platform, ItsLearning.

“We stand the right to modify that and go back to contact tracing if we feel like it’s a necessary thing to do, but at this point, we just want to let parents know so parents can make that decision,” Bearden said.

If students choose to self-quarantine, attendance will be counted through ItsLearning. For now, there are no longer any incentives or awards regarding attendance.

Those who test positive must also quarantine at home, and the district continues to encourage parents to keep their children home if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or are awaiting a test result.

As of Tuesday morning, Bearden said 167 students were in self-quarantine.

At the peak of the pandemic last year, more than 1,900 students were in quarantine at the same time. Compared to the beginning of last school year, the number of those quarantining at home has dropped significantly with families’ option to continue with in-person classes after possible exposure.

 

Why FCS is giving families the choice to quarantine

Bearden stands by the district’s decision to not require healthy students to go into quarantine as he believes it was not an effective mitigation strategy for FCS.

“I understand why we had to do it at the beginning because we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” Bearden said. "No question, we’re dealing with a different variant right now, so I can’t tell you with certainty that what we’re dealing with this year is the same as last year …. but we quarantined thousands of kids last year.”

Some students ended up in quarantine for up to 50 days last school year, and less than 1% of the thousands quarantined ended up testing positive for the virus.

“That was so frustrating for everybody — for parents, for students, for teachers,” Bearden said.

Based on that experience last year, the district decided it would be best to limit quarantine requirements, but Bearden continued to warn that state mandates and school guidelines could change.

“If we get to a point where we say, you know what, maybe we need to [have more strict exposure and quarantine requirements] now because this variant is different, then we’ll do what we need to do,” Bearden said.

He mentioned that district leaders are also having a conversation internally right now, asking themselves if they should stay on the current track or switch back to contact tracing moving forward into the school year.

Medical experts have confirmed in recent weeks that the Delta variant is spread more easily among individuals, and it now accounts for about 90% of all active COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Before the start of the 2021-22 year

At the end of July, Bearden originally announced the district would work to have a “normal” school year with visitors, field trips and all in-person events planned as any school year before the pandemic.

At the same time, he did warn that these plans could change, and just two weeks later, they did.

Two days before the start of the school year on Thursday, Aug. 5, the school district announced further guidelines and mitigation measures for elementary schools. These came in light of concerns from parents of younger kids who cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The approved COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. are currently only available to children ages 12 and older.

The measures set in place for all FCS K-12 schools that Bearden discussed at the meeting Tuesday came less than a week later.

For more information and to stay updated on future changes to the district’s guidelines, visit its website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.