Cobb wants better COVID-19 numbers before reopening classrooms

Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale speaks before a tour of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, on Thursday, February 13, 2020. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)
Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale speaks before a tour of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, on Thursday, February 13, 2020. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

While other metro Atlanta districts have set target dates on when they will reopen classrooms, Cobb County wants to see fewer COVID-19 cases before making any concrete decisions.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said the district’s plan to bring students back to schools depends on three key metrics: community spread of the coronavirus, effective contact tracing to identify people exposed to the virus and efficient testing.

Ragsdale said information provided to the district by Cobb & Douglas Public Health indicates the percentage of positive test results and number of cases per 100,000 is dropping.

As of Sunday, Cobb had 273 cases per 100,000 people and its positive test result rate is about 6%. Cobb and Douglas Public Health District Director Dr. Janet Memark said anything above 100 cases per 100,000 people is considered high community spread.

A month ago, Cobb’s cases per 100,000 people was around 384 and its positivity rate was about 11%, the Georgia Department of Public Health website shows.

As of Sunday, Cobb had 15,931 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 369 deaths, according to Georgia Department of Public Health.

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Ragsdale said the district could consider reopening schools if cases fell to 200 per 100,000 people. However, he warned that health data is delayed by about two weeks, and numbers could spike through the end of August.

“There’s a huge question mark over Labor Day,” Ragsdale said of the Sept. 7 national holiday. He also said people’s travel plans during the fall break, Sept. 28-Oct. 2, could affect the number of coronavirus cases.

Ragsdale said the district wants to make sure it can provide an environment that’s safe for students and teachers. The superintendent said he “feels” for the districts that reopened classrooms earlier this month and have closed schools because hundreds of students and staff are quarantined at home after being exposed to COVID-19.

“That situation is not conducive for teaching and learning,” he said.

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The first phase of the district’s reopening plan calls for kindergarten through fifth-grade and some of its special needs students to return to the classroom first. Phase two would bring middle school students back to the classroom two weeks later, high school students would follow in phase three.

Before each phase is carried out, the district will allow parents to choose between in-person classes or remote learning for their children.

Ragsdale’s comments were met with disappointment by some parents who have been calling on the district to provide an in-person learning option to parents who want their kids back in the classroom.

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Joe Monaghan, a Cobb parent who has a kindergarten student in the district, said he believes the system should provide a target date like its neighboring systems and share with parents the information it’s using to make a decision.

“They are hidden behind this curtain that’s not being opened up,” he said, adding his child has not been able to access the virtual Cobb Teaching and Learning System consistently due to technical issues.

Another parent, Bart Nunley, said he wants face-to-face instruction because his two high school-age children “need interaction to keep their interest and function.” Getting their lessons via computer isn’t working for them, Nunley said.

“They are zoned out, totally disinterested and actually want to go to school over this,” he said. “They will fall behind their peers and ultimately this will hurt their future the longer this continues.”

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