Cobb school board elects new chair; controversial vice chair remains

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The Cobb County Board of Education on Thursday elected a new chair and chose to keep the same vice chair though he has been widely criticized for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

David Chastain was elected chair by the four Republican members of the board, including himself. The three Democrat board members voted for Leroy “Tre” Hutchins.

Chastain, who was first elected to the board in 2014, succeeds Randy Scamihorn in the role. He previously served as board chair in 2019 and 2017.

“In the next year I just hope we will work at doing what’s best for our kids,” Chastain told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We want people to come to Cobb with confidence.”

David Banks will serve his third consecutive term as board vice chair. Democrat board member Jaha Howard said before the vote that he has “significant concerns” over Banks’ leadership, considering his past statements about the coronavirus, including masks.

“I would encourage our board not to embarrass ourselves further by voting for Mr. Banks as our vice chair,” he said.

Credit: Christine Tannous/AJC

Credit: Christine Tannous/AJC

Banks was criticized in October for sending an email to parents from his district account with false claims about COVID-19. The email stated, in part, that masks do not protect against any virus and that more than 122,000 people had died from COVID-19 vaccines.

The district — Georgia’s second largest — does not mandate masks in its schools. On Wednesday, classrooms reopened amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state. Georgia reported a new daily high of more than 25,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases.

Before his reelection in 2020, some parents criticized Banks for calling COVID-19 “the China virus” in a campaign newsletter. It’s a phrase popularized by former President Donald Trump that many regard as contributing to anti-Asian sentiment in the country.

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Democrat board member Charisse Davis also spoke against Chastain.

“I have sat through a year of leadership from Mr. Chastain,” she said. “I do not feel like he is the leader for what we need right now.”

Chastain said each member of the board is entitled to their own opinion.

The Democrats on the board tried and failed to elect Davis as chairwoman for the past two years.

Last year, Cognia Accreditation Services conducted a special review of the district after the three Democrat board members and others filed complaints. Collegiality and trust among board members was one of the main issues in the investigation.

Addressing the directives in Cognia’s report will be on his to-do list, Chastain said. He asked for patience before it is discussed publicly.