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What Forsyth County Schools superintendent had to say during White House discussion on opening schools
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Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden speaks during a panel discussion at the White House on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (YouTube)

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said it is “incredibly important” to get students back in classrooms for the upcoming school year during a meeting of education, government, and health officials at the White House on Tuesday.

Bearden was a featured panelist at the National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools to discuss issues around reopening schools for the 2020-21 year, and later met with President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Second Lady Karen Pence for a round-table discussion.

During the panel, Bearden shared Forsyth County Schools’s experience transitioning to virtual learning during the spring when schools in Georgia were forced to close because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, particularly emphasizing the role of teachers.

Bearden said that online learning helped many teachers learn new skills and tools to engage and instruct their students.

“I’m really proud of how well our teachers pivoted to the environment last spring,” Bearden said, “and I think they did a masterful job. The vast majority of our students remained engaged in the virtual environment.”

Others, though, struggled with virtual instruction, he said, and so the school district developed a program this summer to provide teachers with professional development “so we are even more prepared next year in the event that we have to learn virtually for a period of time.”

Forsyth County Schools spent the summer creating a new online learning program for grades K-5 to offer families that aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to school and to be ready in case schools are forced to close again because of the pandemic. 

The virtual school day will mirror a regular school schedule, and teachers will be dedicated to online instruction. The school district is hosting virtual town halls this week to address questions about online learning options.

But Bearden reiterated previous statements, and echoed other panelists throughout the event, that he preferred to begin the school year with face-to-face instruction.

The Forsyth County Board of Education is set to vote on the school district’s plan for reopening safely, called “Restart Forsyth,” during a special-called meeting Thursday, July 9.

“Our kids need the social experience of school,” Bearden said. “Of course academics is important. Rigor is important. But the social and emotional well-being of our students is critically important, and we cannot deliver the services that we need if they’re at home. So we desperately want them to come back so we can serve them well.”

Bearden also praised “local, state, and federal government” for their support during the spring. Bearden said he agreed with Georgia’s decision to skip mandate testing, and he mentioned the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, part of which provided emergency funding to state education departments. Forsyth County Schools received $1,705,290 from the relief funds.

Despite the challenges amid the pandemic, Bearden said “our community has really come together.”

“I think we’re more connected now than we ever were before,” he added, “in terms of making sure children have the resources and support they need to be successful.”