Cobb health board urges masks in schools. District defends voluntary policy

Superintendent says students and staff are protected even without mask mandate

When the Cobb County health board voted Tuesday night for stronger COVID-19 prevention guidelines for schools including mandatory masking, one member abstained. Chris Ragsdale, the superintendent of the Cobb County School District, declined to vote.

Ragsdale told his fellow health board members he had not seen the final resolution, which call for vaccines for those who are eligible and masks for all students and school staff.

“I am not totally comfortable being asked to vote on something that I have not read,” said Ragsdale, who attended the meeting virtually. He also said the guidance didn’t include Kennesaw State University, even though cases were rising among people aged 18 to 22.

Ragsdale defended his district’s policies, saying Cobb schools were following most of the recommended safety protocols. “It is not that we are anti-mask or anti-vaccination,” he said. “We strongly encourage both of those.”

But, he said, “There is a cost for having elementary school-age children mandated to wear masks during the entire day.” Of Cobb’s 128,000 students and staff, Ragsdale said 97% are COVID free, showing the district’s approach is working.

The position statement adopted by the health board is not binding on Cobb Schools, as a district spokeswoman made clear in a comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today.

“The non-binding position statement has no effect in Cobb Schools, our protocols remain unchanged,” said the spokeswoman. “In addition to extensive mitigation, Cobb is following 7 of 8 recommendations made by Cobb & Douglas Public Health and will continue to strongly encourage masks while asking students, parents, and staff to make health decisions which are best for their families.”

Superintendent Ragsdale was not swayed by accounts at the meeting of COVID infections climbing in Cobb County, hospitals operating at capacity and health workers operating on empty.

“This is one of the most trying issues of our time. This inaction could be resulting in grave harm to our children in our community,” said Lisa Cupid, chairman of the Cobb County Commission and a member of the health board.

Cobb-Douglas Public Health Director Janet Memark pointed to rising COVID infections among children. She said the evidence was “irrefutable” that masks reduce transmission of the virus.

The position statement adopted by the health board echoes the recommendations for indoor masking by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many parents took to social media after the meeting to lament Ragsdale’s stance. Parent Charis Granger-Mbugua wrote a letter to the board that she shared with the AJC:

Dear Superintendent Ragsdale, members of the Cobb County School Board, members of the Cobb Board of Health,

I am writing as a concerned Cobb county resident, a parent of a CCSD student, and a mother who has already spent hours, since the beginning of this school year, with my sick child at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Yesterday's emergency Cobb Board of Health Meeting was a lovely gesture, but it was simply not enough. Cobb children, today, are in schools WITHOUT a mask mandate. Cobb children, today, are being exposed to a virus that is affecting them at rates much higher than the previous school year, as shown in the data presented at yesterday's meeting. Cobb children, under the age of 12, are entering into learning environments, today, without the added layer of protection of a vaccine that is not currently available to them.

What are you doing about it?

As leaders, you have a responsibility to make the hard choices. But the irony is, this is not one of the hard choices at all. The CDC, the APA, and our own Cobb and Douglas Public Health board have all made it clear that universal masking is a critical and significant step in mitigation of the Covid19 virus. Yet masks continue to be optional in our schools.

Additionally, I would like to address the blatant lies told by Superintendent Ragsdale during yesterday's emergency meeting. Masks are NOT strongly encouraged in Cobb schools. Administrators and the majority of teachers at my son's elementary school DO NOT wear masks. Please help me understand the ways in which Cobb Schools strongly encourage mask wearing when the leaders in schools do not themselves model the behaviors you purport to strongly encourage.

Further, Cobb schools are NOT following 7 of the 8 mitigation protocols highlighted during yesterday's meeting. That was another unconscionable lie by the superintendent. There is no social distancing, and many schools are without soap in bathrooms or sanitizer in dispensers. Sick children and Covid positive students ARE coming to school and again vaccines are literally unavailable for our entire elementary school population.

You have a duty to the citizens of Cobb county to ensure that public health guidelines are being followed as we continue to try and navigate a pandemic that has already taken so much from us.

Children are dying. Teachers and staff are dying. Bus drivers are dying. There is no time to waste and yet we continue to waste time each and every day as our children are sent to the proverbial slaughterhouse.

Look around at what other school districts are doing and be part of the solution, not part of the problem. As a National Board Certified teacher who spent more than a decade in Prince George's and Montgomery County public schools in Maryland my heart breaks when I think of what I hoped my children would receive when we moved to Cobb County schools, the same school district that I attended as a child. Instead of feeling pride in our current school district, I feel an immense sadness that my children aren't in a school district being led by leaders who listen to science and who make the choices necessary to protect children.

It does not have to be this way.

Please make a different choice TODAY and mandate masks in all Cobb schools.

With a heavy heart,

Charis Granger-Mbugua