FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Three students — each from different high schools — were confirmed positive with COVID-19 during the first week of classes for Forsyth County Schools.

A district official stressed that the numbers should be kept in perspective, because the school system includes nearly 55,600 students and staff.

“Our schools are doing a great job with contact tracing to identify and notify those individuals that have had direct exposure to the positive cases,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, director of Communications for Forsyth Schools.

The students were enrolled at Denmark, Lambert and West Forsyth high schools. However, this does not mean the student was physically at the school on the day of their positive diagnosis.

Caracciolo said the school and Department of Public Health will contact anyone who had direct exposure to a student that tested positive. She noted parents and guardians across the district have been asked to keep children at home if they have symptoms or are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Forsyth County Schools is the largest system in the state to open its schools for face-to-face learning. The district offers a virtual option for students who wish to remain at home. Approximately two-thirds of students have returned to in-person instruction.

According to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Forsyth County’s rate of positive cases of COVID-19 is among the lowest of the 159 counties in Georgia. Recent data shows Forsyth has 1,073 cases per 100,000 population, compared to 2,099 cases per 100,000 in neighboring Fulton County.

Forsyth’s first week contrasts with other nearby districts that opened in early August, then promptly began closing buildings as COVID-19 cases began to rise. In Cherokee and Paulding counties, several high schools were closed temporarily for deep cleaning after a surge of COVID positive cases, and subsequent national attention.

With only one student confirmed positive for COVID-19 at each of the three Forsyth High Schools, the buildings remain open. Caracciolo said district officials followed a set procedure on how to address instances of COVID-19 in schools, based on public health guidance.

Caracciolo said the greatest challenge for school leaders is what is occurring outside of school.

“We are asking our students and their families to practice five COVID-19 ‘Everyday Prevention Actions’ [which include] mask up, wash up, cover up, back up (social distancing), and clean up,” Caracciolo said.

When large groups of students gather outside of school without masks or social distancing, she said, those actions impact the ability of the district to keep the schools healthy and safe.

Students are expected to wear masks, but it is not mandated. A visit to a school on the first day of the year showed nearly every student and staff member wearing a face covering.

Parents who opted to keep their children home for virtual learning can decide after nine weeks to return to in-person learning or remain online. Information regarding a change in instruction is online at forsyth.k12.ga.us, with more options coming in the next few weeks.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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