SUWANEE, Ga. — Forsyth County Schools is urging students to wear face masks to help mitigate cases of COVID-19 in the community after a surge forced one school to temporarily move to all-remote instruction.
“[With] your child wearing a mask, he or she is less likely to contract the virus even if directly exposed,” Superintendent Jeff Bearden said in a letter to parents. “That’s why we expect all students and staff to wear a mask.”
Students at Lambert High School in Suwanee returned to remote instruction last week after an uptick in COVID cases forced the school to close for two weeks. On Oct. 21, the school reported 22 active student cases, the highest number since August. On Oct. 26, 14 new cases were reported.
Forsyth Schools was the largest district in Georgia to begin the school year in August with the option for in-school instruction. Masks were “expected,” but not mandated by the district.
Bearden said Lambert, like other schools throughout the district, reported a decline in the number of students wearing a mask during the school day as the year went on.
“Most show up at school with a mask, but wind up taking it off or wearing it around their neck,” Bearden said. “Most medical experts continue to impress upon all of us that wearing a mask helps to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
Students at Lambert High confirmed that observation.
“At the beginning of the year, the staff did a great job at encouraging masks, and almost all the student body wore them,” said senior Sam Haymond. “However, as the year went on, fewer and fewer students wore masks, which I’m sure was part of the cause in the outbreak.”
The district, to date, has declined to make face masks mandatory for students despite the rise in cases.
As of last Wednesday, Lambert had just over 1 percent — a total of 426 students — in quarantine from a direct exposure to COVID. That was the highest number since early September and prompted the closing of the school until at least Nov. 11.
Bearden noted the number of cases and quarantined students remains small in comparison to the district’s total student population of more than 51,000.
“However, any increase in regard to health is best addressed sooner rather than later,” Bearden said. “We want to keep them all safe.”
Senior Morgan Moncrief said she always felt safe at Lambert, and appreciated the staff handing out masks for those who did not have one and reminding everyone to keep them on.
“I believe Lambert was trying to do the best they could,” Moncrief said. “It’s just very hard to come up with procedures that work well enough to prevent a COVID outbreak, especially with some students not taking it seriously.”
Bearden said the district has had a “positive first quarter” as it blended in-person instruction with students opting to learn from home.
“Our students have been able to be actively engaged in the classroom and with activities,” Bearden said. “There is a semblance of normalcy. [But] it’s human nature to become complacent when things appear to be going well.”
But learning from home has challenges, said Haymond, especially when it comes to the “hands-on” classes.
“Ceramics is one of my courses this year and it is almost impossible to make a project without examples and the help of our teacher,” Haymond said. He added classes where he has a lot of questions, like Calculus, is also challenging.
Bearden said adults also play a role in getting their children back into classes.
“This is not a Forsyth County Schools issue in isolation,” Bearden said. “As adults, we must set an example [so] speak with your children about the importance of following precautionary measures.”