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Hundreds of parents, students and community members want Georgia’s second-largest school district to offer a face-to-face option for their children in the new school year.

The protesters gathered Saturday at the Cobb County Civic Center to call on Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb school board to offer in-person classes alongside virtual learning to students returning to the classroom Aug. 17.

They are circulating a petition calling for the reinstatement of traditional classroom teaching that has received more than 7,500 signatures. The Cobb County School District has about 113,000 students.

Amy Henry of East Cobb said parents have to advocate for children who want to go back to school. She also said parents have been asking the school district to share its plan to reopen schools for in-person learning. The district, Henry said, has not provided any details to parents.

“They have no intention of getting our kids back in school,” she said. “We are the voice of the 113,000 students in this county that deserve face-to-face learning.”

Amy Henry leads parents, students and community members during a rally to call on Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb school board to offer in-person classes alongside virtual learning outside Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta on Saturday, August 1, 2020. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Amy Henry leads parents, students and community members during a rally to call on Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb school board to offer in-person classes alongside virtual learning outside Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta on Saturday, August 1, 2020. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Ragsdale did not respond to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s request submitted earlier in the week for comment, but district spokeswoman Nan Kiel told the AJC that all teachers, principals and leaders in the system want to return to face-to-face learning as soon as its safe to do so.

“Until public health guidance and data for Cobb County says it is safe, our teachers will be teaching and our students will be learning remotely,” she said.

Cobb County schools in March used remote learning to close out the 2019-2020 school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district, along with Gwinnett, DeKalb and Fulton, all originally offered parents the choice of face-to-face or virtual learning when the new school year begins. However, due to an increase in coronavirus cases, all the districts decided to start the year with only remote teaching. Marietta City and Atlanta Public schools also decided to only offer virtual-only classes.

Ryder Kim, an Allatoona High School sophomore, said he was looking forward to going back to school. While he did well academically in the spring, he said he performs better when he is in the classroom and around his peers.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle,” he said.

READ | Gwinnett parents rally for option to send students to in-person classes

As of Saturday, Cobb County had 11,206 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Georgia Department of Public health. There are also 297 deaths and 1,292 hospitalizations stemming from the disease, the agency notes.

During a virtual discussion panel held Thursday, Cobb & Douglas Public Health Director Dr. Janet Memark said Cobb County is experiencing high transmission rates. As of Saturday, Cobb reported 369 cases per 100,000 people within the last two weeks. Anything greater than 100 is considered a substantial spread, Memark said.

“We don’t know exactly what’s causing this huge spike, but it does seem to be around the holidays and when everything opened up a lot more,” she said.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics and three education groups have come out in favor of children returning to the classroom when it’s safe for them and educators. The academy stresses that teachers, parents, local school leaders and public health experts should “be at the center” of any decisions about how and when schools reopen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued guidelines to prepare for a safe return to school in the fall.

Cobb County School Board member Dr. Jaha Howard, who asked to speak the crowd but was denied, said he was glad to see parents and students protesting for their right to choose in-person learning. He said he supported Superintendent Ragsdale’s decision to go 100% virtual due to the spike in cases.

Dr. Jaha Howard (center), a Cobb County School board member, is surrounded by protesters during a rally to call on Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb school board to offer in-person classes alongside virtual learning. The protest was held outside Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta on Saturday, August 1, 2020. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Dr. Jaha Howard (center), a Cobb County School board member, is surrounded by protesters during a rally to call on Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb school board to offer in-person classes alongside virtual learning. The protest was held outside Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta on Saturday, August 1, 2020. (Photo: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

However, Howard said the Cobb district and his fellow board members could have communicated more frequently to the public about the data it used to make the decision. An example of this, Howard said, was the school board’s Republican majority voting on July 16 to reject a request to hold a called meeting so the health department could discuss the pandemic in Cobb.

While he said he “agreed to disagree” with the parents in attendance, he said he came away with the impression that everyone at the protest cared about the children attending school in Georgia’s second largest district.

“We agree that we need to get (back to) face-to-face because face-to-face is the best option,” he said, adding that it should only happen when it’s safe.