District attorney reviewing Cobb schools’ $12M purchase of UV lights, hand-rinsing stations

"Iggy", 30e Scientific's first aqueous ozone hand washing station is installed in the Bryant Elementary School cafeteria in Mableton. The sanitation station uses ozone, a natural disinfectant, to clean elementary school hands in seven seconds before students pick up their school lunches.  The Cobb County School District and the makers of the three sanitation systems installed at the school share information before moving into demonstrates of the technologies Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

"Iggy", 30e Scientific's first aqueous ozone hand washing station is installed in the Bryant Elementary School cafeteria in Mableton. The sanitation station uses ozone, a natural disinfectant, to clean elementary school hands in seven seconds before students pick up their school lunches. The Cobb County School District and the makers of the three sanitation systems installed at the school share information before moving into demonstrates of the technologies Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Cobb County District Attorney is looking into the school district’s decision to spend millions of dollars on high-tech products they say could help curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Kim Isaza, the spokeswoman for District Attorney Flynn Broady, said the office has made an “initial inquiry” into the system’s purchase of UV sanitizing lights and hand-rinsing machines to help fight COVID-19 in schools.

Isaza would not comment on the nature of the inquiry or if Broady had spoken directly to Cobb school district officials. It’s not clear if the current inquiry could lead to a criminal investigation.

The inquiry comes three days after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story on concerns over the school district using the services of a company whose employee had been indicted for alleged bid rigging in Florida.

In December, a majority of Board of Education members voted to spend up to $12 million to install UV lights and hand-rinsing machines at the district’s 67 elementary schools.

Board member Charisse Davis, who voted against the purchase, said most of the controversy could have been prevented if Superintendent Chris Ragsdale provided more information about the products before the board took action.

“I’ve never understood how anyone on the board could have voted in the affirmative when we just had no information about how they worked or if they worked,” she said.

The purchase was criticized by parents, some of whom are members of the grassroots organization Watching the Funds - Cobb, who say Ragsdale did not provide scientific data to prove that the technology was as effective as mask wearing and hand washing with soap and water in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Cobb County School District spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the system is “unaware of any investigation.”

“We are aware of a group of community members who have requested one,” she said.

Jessica Bergeron, a west Cobb parent who has criticized the district’s purchase of the products, said she hopes the inquiry will “prompt our district to really consider making wise choices about purchases.”

More questions were raised when a former employee of the man whose company supplied the district with the UV lights was indicted in an investigation into bid tampering in Florida. That employee, Anthony Hunter, allegedly steered $17 million in contracts for classroom video technology to Kennesaw-based EDCO Education while he served as chief information officer of Broward County Public Schools from 2015 to 2019.

EDCO was owned by Cobb County businessman David Allen, who died in January of COVID-19, according to an obituary. Allen also owned Protek Life, Inc., the company providing the UV lights to Cobb schools, and AlertPoint Security — where Hunter went to work following his tenure with Broward County schools.

In return for awarding bids to EDCO, Florida prosecutors allege Hunter bought a home from Allen in Acworth for about $150,000 less than its fair market value and used a car dealership to indirectly purchase two luxury vehicles from Allen.

AlertPoint is the system used by Cobb teachers and staff to report school emergencies. The system came under scrutiny by parents after it malfunctioned Feb. 2, briefly placing all Cobb schools on lockdown. In the weeks after the false alarm, parents made repeated requests for the district and Ragsdale to explain how the system malfunctioned.

Cobb schools had not provided information to parents about what happened until last week when it revealed that the incident stemmed from a “targeted, external attack” on the system and that the Cobb County Police Department’s Technology Based Crimes Unit is investigating the case.

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