Cobb parents clash at rally over school district’s optional mask policy

A demonstrator (right) demanding mask-mandate confronts a counter-protester at a rally in the parking lot of Cobb County School District's headquarters on Aug. 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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A demonstrator (right) demanding mask-mandate confronts a counter-protester at a rally in the parking lot of Cobb County School District's headquarters on Aug. 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

It was supposed to be a rally of parents who wanted the Cobb County School District to mandate masks in buildings.

But masks opponents turned out, too, at the Thursday gathering outside of the district’s headquarters that drew more than 100 people.

They chanted and held signs reflecting their opposite positions on the issue: “science is real; masks in class” and “masks protect nothing.”

Students in the district, the second-largest system in Georgia, returned to class Aug. 2. Masks are optional in the district buildings, but “strongly encouraged.”

Cobb parent Elisha Campbell, whose daughter attends Hillgrove High School, said she supports a mandate because she’d rather see the district be safe than sorry. She also said her daughter has asthma, a condition classified as high-risk of severe illness if a person contracts COVID-19.

“She can’t afford to get this virus,” she said of her daughter.

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A demonstrator holds a sign that says, "We ask for mask" is confronted by outside the headquarters of the Cobb County School District on Aug. 12, 2021.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A demonstrator holds a sign that says, "We ask for mask" is confronted by outside the headquarters of the Cobb County School District on Aug. 12, 2021.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
A demonstrator holds a sign that says, "We ask for mask" is confronted by outside the headquarters of the Cobb County School District on Aug. 12, 2021.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The rally grew tense at times, with some parents getting in shouting matches over whether masks were effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The majority attending the rally wanted the district to require masks amid the spike in COVID-19 cases in the county and around Georgia.

Two people, who were both in support of the mask-optional policy, used bullhorns to shout their talking points in response to the crowd’s pro-mandate chants.

Leroy Emkin, an East Cobb resident who was among several people who want masks to be optional, said parents should have the choice to decide what’s best for their children.

“It’s not up to the school board to force it on people,” he said.

ExploreCOVID cases in Cobb elementary schools soar in second week of classes

A day before the rally, East Side Elementary School in East Cobb decided to move its entire fifth-grade class to virtual learning due to a spike in cases.

Michelle Davis, who has two children in second grade at East Side, said requiring masks will help protect young children who can’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Davis also said implementing a mandate will prevent the district from “yo-yoing” children between virtual and in-person learning.

“If we had masks in place, we would be able to keep kids in school,” she said.

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Parents hold a rally to encourage the Cobb County School District to require masks for students and staff at the parking lot of the district's headquarters on Aug. 2, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Parents hold a rally to encourage the Cobb County School District to require masks for students and staff at the parking lot of the district's headquarters on Aug. 2, 2021.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Parents hold a rally to encourage the Cobb County School District to require masks for students and staff at the parking lot of the district's headquarters on Aug. 2, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Melissa Colwell, an East Cobb parent with two children in the school district, also came to the rally to support the mask-optional policy. Colwell said she doesn’t want to have her children wear masks again.

“I don’t have any power over anyone’s choice, but I want to be able to make my own,” she said.

Cobb schools this week also updated its quarantine policy to say anyone identified as close contacts, and are asymptomatic, can return to school if they remain symptom free. They must wear a mask while on district property for 10 days after they were exposed, according to the district.

Some parents say masks are needs for the health safety of students, especially those under age 12, who are too young to be vaccinated. Health officials attribute Georgia’s uptick in coronavirus cases to low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant.

Dr. Nason Rouhizad of WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta said wearing masks should not be a political or divisive issue. The doctor, who was wearing his medical coat and watching the rally on the sidelines, has two young children enrolled in Cobb schools.

“It’s something people can do to guard the community and protect their kids,” he said of wearing masks. “Just do your part.”

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Parents gathered at the headquarters of the Cobb County School District on Aug. 12, 2021, to call for a mask mandate in schools. People who oppose masks in schools also turned out. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Parents gathered at the headquarters of the Cobb County School District on Aug. 12, 2021, to call for a mask mandate in schools. People who oppose masks in schools also turned out.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Parents gathered at the headquarters of the Cobb County School District on Aug. 12, 2021, to call for a mask mandate in schools. People who oppose masks in schools also turned out. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC