CUMMING, Ga. — The continued decline of COVID-19 numbers in the Forsyth School System could mean the resumption of in-person activities that were canceled or modified last year with the need for limits on large gatherings.

“We plan to hold face-to-face and virtual graduations,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, communications director for Forsyth Schools. “As far as for prom and other events, schools are discussing these activities, but a lot will depend on where we are as we move closer to them.”

Last year, events such as proms and theater productions were canceled. Graduation ceremonies were held with limits on the number of people allowed to attend in person.

This year, the goal is to allow more people at graduations, with the online option available for those who remain uncomfortable with large gatherings, Caracciolo said.

The number of COVID-19 positive cases in Forsyth County remains low compared to other counties in the state, and school-based cases are not higher in schools than in the general community.

Positive cases among students and staff have trended down from spikes in January. Last week ended with 26 positive cases out of the 43,500 students and staff in schools. The number of people quarantined from direct exposure to the 26 cases was not available.

Individual schools, however, continue to be impacted. Last week, both Poole’s Mill Elementary and Liberty Middle School resumed all virtual instruction through Feb. 16 because of the high number of quarantined students and staff.

The district is now following revised guidelines from public health officials which shorten the quarantine time for those with no symptoms and a negative test to as few as seven days. Previously all exposed individuals quarantined for 14 days.

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Forsyth County was the largest school district in Georgia to re-open schools for in-person instruction. Nearly 50 percent of students chose to return to the classroom in the fall, and Caracciolo said the numbers have increased in the second semester.

Being among the first wave of schools to reopen provided challenges as well as opportunities to find success early.

“Restarting school in the middle of a pandemic is building the plane while flying,” Caracciolo said. “Our success has been because of our teachers and support positions in the schools. They have worked tirelessly to do what is right for every student, whether it be face to face, online 100 percent or a combination of both.”

Managing the rotating numbers of students out because of direct exposures continues to be the most challenging aspect of the COVID response for staff, she said.

Looking to next year, district officials are studying education options for students.

“We have offered middle and high school virtual in the past and will continue to do so, and are determining what approach is best for elementary virtual learning.” Caracciolo. “We don't expect virtual learning to go away, but we will continue to improve it.”

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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