A group of parents is questioning the Cobb County School District’s decision to spend $12 million to purchase equipment it says could reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the classroom.
Members of Watching the Funds Cobb said the district has not provided any data to prove the equipment is worth the price tag and that the money would be better spent on items and processes proven to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Jessica Bergeron, a west Cobb parent, said the organization is made up of parents and others who want to hold the district accountable for how it spends taxpayer dollars.
Parents began mobilizing after a divided Cobb County Board of Education voted 4-2 in November to spend up to $12 million to add hand-rinsing devices and a product that uses low-voltage ultraviolet light to sterilize classrooms in its 67 elementary schools. Board members Charisse Davis and Dr. Jaha Howard opposed the proposal while David Banks, David Chastain, Brad Wheeler and Randy Scamihorn voted in favor of the purchase.
Iggy, the hand-rinsing device, incorporates a low concentration of aqueous ozone in the stream of water it sprays onto a user’s hands. According to 30e Scientific, the company behind Iggy, aqueous ozone has been shown to neutralize some viruses and bacteria.
The ultraviolet light product, Cleanz222, is designed to sterilize classrooms during overnight hours. Created by ProTek Life Inc., the lights are installed in the ceiling and run for an hour each night to “eliminate over 99.99% of harmful microbes on surfaces and in the air,” according to its website.
Bergeron said the district could have used the $12 million to purchase personal protective equipment for teachers, staff and bus drivers; contact tracers who can help identify students and teachers who have been exposed to COVID-19; issue hazard pay for staff; and hire more substitute teachers for when educators are sick with COVID.
“It just seemed to be so tone deaf in response to the concerns families have raised, teachers have raised,” she said. “Soap and water are an effective way to prevent COVID and it’s a lot cheaper.”
Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale previously told school board members that both products “have proven science behind them” and that the district needs these tools to promote the health and safety of students, faculty and staff. However, the superintendent did not provide any data to board members to back up his statement.
Cobb schools spokeswoman Nan Kiel told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday that during a public health pandemic, “any dollar which provides students and teachers with healthier classrooms is a dollar well spent.”
“We are spending any available dollar on supports for both face-to-face and remote classrooms as we provide Cobb families with classrooms options which work best for their students,” she said.
Cobb schools custodians are already cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in schools and other buildings every day. According to its COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the district carries out daily cleaning and disinfecting procedures in classrooms, restrooms, buses, offices and common areas like cafeterias and gymnasiums. Deep cleaning occurs on Wednesdays, a remote-only learning day for all students.
The use of UV lights to kill COVID-19 has been shown to be effective in very small settings like a box, said Dr. Philip Santangelo, a biomedical engineering professor at Georgia Tech. However, the professor said if the district’s UV lights only run at night, it won’t be helpful when students and teachers infected with COVID-19 are in the classroom and expel the virus while talking or coughing.
“What good is that if it’s not going to clear air continuously?” he asked.
Parent Stacy Efrat, who lives in East Cobb, said the district needs to focus on things that have been proven to help curtail the spread of COVID, including social distancing and mask wearing.
“This should not be based on emotions or politics,” she said. “This should be based on science and CDC guidelines.”