Southern Poverty Law Center threatens to sue Cobb school district

Parents hold a rally at the Cobb County School District's headquarters to encourage leaders to require masks for students and staff on August 12, 2021.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Parents hold a rally at the Cobb County School District's headquarters to encourage leaders to require masks for students and staff on August 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently notified the Cobb County School District that it intends to sue on behalf of students with disabilities if stricter COVID-19 protocols are not put into place, including a mask mandate.

The organization sent Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the school board a letter on behalf of clients who are Cobb students with disabilities, including medically vulnerable students. According to the letter, the students cannot attend Cobb schools in person without jeopardizing their health and safety.

Allison Vrolijk, one of the attorneys representing Cobb families, said in a news release that the district’s policies are “causing parents of students with significant medical conditions to make an impossible choice: their child’s education or their child’s lives.”

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In an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the district said: “As is the case with any issue, individual student needs are supported on a student-by-student basis and we actively encourage any student or family to discuss their needs with their local school.”

The law center’s letter also asked the school district to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on contact tracing, ventilation and quarantine policies.

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Superintendent of the Cobb County School District Chris Ragsdale speaks during a Cobb County School Board meeting in Marietta on Thursday, July 15, 2021. This school board meeting was the first full meeting to allow the public in to view without restrictions since February 2020. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Superintendent of the Cobb County School District Chris Ragsdale speaks during a Cobb County School Board meeting in Marietta on Thursday, July 15, 2021. This school board meeting was the first full meeting to allow the public in to view without restrictions since February 2020. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Superintendent of the Cobb County School District Chris Ragsdale speaks during a Cobb County School Board meeting in Marietta on Thursday, July 15, 2021. This school board meeting was the first full meeting to allow the public in to view without restrictions since February 2020. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ragsdale defended the district’s mask-optional policy at last week’s board of education meeting, saying that data “clearly indicates a mask mandate does not provide a significant change in cases.” On Friday, the district reported its COVID-19 case count had dropped for the fourth consecutive week, from a high of 1,033 cases the week ending Aug. 27 to 394 cases the week ending Sept. 24.

“Our CCSD COVID-19 protocol is about much more than masks, as we are not anti-masks,” Ragsdale said in an accompanying news release. “We are for effective protocols that are driven by data and minimize disruption to our students.”

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About 15,000 of the 107,000 students in Cobb schools have disabilities, according to state data.

The law center alleged the Cobb school system is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws by failing to implement virus mitigation strategies necessary for students with disabilities to participate in classroom education.

These officials continue to put politics ahead of Cobb County’s diverse student population, and propaganda ahead of public health and common-sense science,” said Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney, in the center’s news release.