CUMMING, Ga. — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with local and state school officials at Forsyth Central High School Aug. 25 to discuss the county’s transition back to in-person classes with an option for virtual learning.
The district began the 2020-21 academic year on Aug. 13.
DeVos said she was “thrilled” to see students back in classrooms and said Forsyth Schools have provided a “great road map” for reopening schools.
“And at the same time, I’d say there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” she said. “Every community is different, but I think [Forsyth Schools] have certainly modeled a very viable and solid example of what can be done to ensure you are meeting the needs of students across the district.”
She credited Forsyth Schools with extending options to parents to enroll their kids either in traditional classes or online courses.
“President Trump and I are really committed to the fact that kids need to be back to learning full time,” she said. “But don’t mistake learning full time for suggesting that every single student needs to be 100 percent in person in school. We need to give families choices and students choices. This Forsyth district has done a terrific job of listening to parents, collaborating with all of their teaching staff and working really hard to meet the needs the families here.”
While many have called for requiring masks be worn by all in schools, DeVos said if you lay out the expectation of wearing masks, “people will do the right thing.”
“It sounds like it has been working quite well here,” she said. “We are not going to mandate it, but we’re going to suggest, we’re going to expect that you are going to respect your peers, and we are going to respect one another, and I think it works well that way.”
Joining DeVos for the roundtable dialogue were State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden, principals from several area schools, State Rep. Rod Woodall, teachers and other school officials and a parent with a child attending a local school.
Forsyth Central Principal Mitch Young said about 80 percent of students are wearing masks. He said by the end of the day, some masks have come off, but teachers have been diligent in reminding them to continue wearing one.
Young added that 72 percent of enrolled students are attending face-to-face classes, and 18 percent are exclusively in virtual classes. The remainder are in a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes. He said many take their hands-on courses, such as engineering, face-to-face but take other classes online.
Throughout the county, 11,000 students are taking virtual classes, about three-quarters of them exclusively online. Data from the district shows elementary schools had the most students enrolled in digital instruction.
Forsyth Schools reported 3 positive cases of COVID-19 in the opening week of school, Aug. 13-14. From Aug. 17-21, the district had 30 positive cases out of 55,600 staff members and students, including those taking virtual classes.