Cobb parents react to accreditation review of school district

When the Cobb County board of education met Thursday, several parents and residents were on hand to speak out about a special review underway that could impact the district’s accreditation.

“It’s time to take politics out of this board,” Cobb resident John McLean told board members, noting the review could produce “negative results” impacting teachers, parents, students and residents.

The special review of the district led by Cognia began last month after a request from board of education members Charisse Davis, Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre” Hutchins ― all Democrats. Cognia is the nonprofit organization that serves as the accrediting body for the district.

The Democrats said in a January letter to Cognia that their attempts to put items on meeting agendas were ignored. Among those items: employee safety and morale during the COVID-19 pandemic, early literacy and governance training for board members.

Mark Elgart, CEO of Cognia, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it received more than 50 complaints from community members about Cobb schools. Most center on board and district leadership and governance concerns, he said.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, quoted in a district news release after the review was announced, said he is confident that the organization that will find that the district is complying with its standards.

“While the district’s record speaks for itself, we know there is always room for growth in all areas, including effective board governance and interactions,” he said. “The district is committed to continuous improvement in meeting our obligations under Cognia, state law, and board policy.

Lisa Cheatham, a parent of two elementary school children, said Thursday that the school board should put politics aside and “make this county the absolutely number one county in the country that I know we can be.”

Another parent, Amy Henry, said the Democrats on the board have taken a radical approach to bring down the Cobb County School District.

“You’ve awoken mama bears across Cobb,” she said. “We are going to fight this.”

Heather Tolley-Bauer, a member of the grassroots group Watching the Funds-Cobb, said one of the things Cognia will investigate is the district’s responsiveness to parents who raise questions about policies and operations.

For months, Tolley-Bauer said she has asked during board meetings and in emails about AlertPoint, the system’s crisis management system that suffered a malfunction in February and placed all schools into lockdown. The district later said the issue was caused by a cyberattack that was enabled by a weak password created by an AlertPoint employee

Tolley-Bauer said the “ship has sailed” on how and why Cognia was brought into review the board and district.

“Literally, this board got us into this and literally this board is the only one who can get us out of this,” she said.