During a visit to Forsyth Central High School on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos complimented Forsyth County Schools officials for beginning the new school year with face-to-face instruction.
“I wanted to come and visit another school that was reopening for classes in person and Forsyth has done a really great job of thinking through all of the needs of the students district-wide,” said DeVos.
DeVos participated in a round table event with a dozen officials from Forsyth County Schools, including Superintendent Jeff Bearden and Forsyth Central Principal Mitch Young. Georgia State Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods also joined the event, as well as U.S. Representative Rob Woodall.
Each of the participants voiced their opinion on the progress of the school year so far; Forsyth County Schools started the new year on August 13. The school system was one of few in the metro-Atlanta area to begin instruction with a mixture of face-to-face and virtual learning.
DeVos has advocated for parents and students to have a choice of in-person or virtual instruction in the months leading up to the start of the new school year. Following her visit to Forsyth Central, she reiterated this stance.
“President Trump and I are really committed to the fact that kids need to be back to learning at full-time, but don’t mistake learning full time for suggesting that every single student needs to be 100 percent in-person in school,” said DeVos. “We need to give families choices and students choices.”
Also unlike many school systems, Forsyth County Schools do not require students to wear masks while attending class in person, although many students have chosen to do so.
Mask mandate or no mask mandate, the comments from school system staff who were a part of the event were overwhelmingly positive in their gratitude to begin the school year partially with face-to-face instruction.
“I’m here to tell you now that I think what we’re doing now is in many ways better than what we were doing before in some aspects,” said Amy Bartlett, principal of Sharon Elementary.
DeVos asked participants questions throughout the event to get more opinion of the school system’s choice to reopen. She asked Wendy Goodrow, a parent of several students at Forsyth Central, if she felt her concerns had been heard.
Goodrow responded with praise for the school system’s willingness to listen to parents.
“There were many meetings [for parents] throughout the summer and I definitely see for Central, the door is always open here,” said Goodrow. “I know if any parent had a question, there would not be any hesitation for an answer.”
The excitement over being back in school extended beyond the roundtable event to the classroom, as well. DeVos toured several classrooms within Forsyth Central where students were participating in face-to-face learning.
One class that DeVos toured was Biotech I, where Ansley Lecoultre, a sophomore at Forsyth Central, said she prefers in-person learning over virtual learning.
“We get to do all of these hands-on things and experiments [and] I’ve really enjoyed seeing my friends even with the safety precautions like the masks and six feet,” she said.
Lecoultre’s teacher, William Schuyler, said that he is “elated” to be teaching in-person.
“I’ve enjoyed summer, but I missed working with the kids,” he said. “I like to see them struggle with things, I like to see them when they realize ‘If I did this, it might work,’ and they try it.”
Schuyler said that he has had trouble with his lungs in the past that technically puts him in the “high risk” zone for contracting COVID-19. But despite this issue, he still wants to be in the classroom for his students.
“I think I’m still here today and so much more improved because of those students and because of these guys,” he said, gesturing to his class.
While the majority of her visit was focused on what the Forsyth County School system has done to get ready for the school year, DeVos also addressed state-wide preparations.
“The key here is really having that dialogue and addressing what are the real fears and what are the real concerns on a very personal level…and then providing options and opportunities,” she said.