Teachers want Cobb district to improve handling of COVID-19 in schools

November 19, 2020 Marietta - Connie Jackson (foreground), president of Cobb County Association of Educators, leads a peaceful protest rally at the Cobb County Civic Center on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The participants are among the growing number of CCSD staff and nurses who are concerned about how the school district is managing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
November 19, 2020 Marietta - Connie Jackson (foreground), president of Cobb County Association of Educators, leads a peaceful protest rally at the Cobb County Civic Center on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The participants are among the growing number of CCSD staff and nurses who are concerned about how the school district is managing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Cobb County educators are calling on the state’s second largest school district to do a better job of addressing how the novel coronavirus pandemic is affecting its students and teachers.

The teachers held a rally Thursday evening in Marietta to draw attention to what they call Cobb County School District’s inadequate response to the pandemic. About 15 to 20 rally participants gathered at the Cobb County Civic Center to voice their concerns.

Educators want the school district to do three things: create a policy outlining how it will respond to confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools, including sharing the data it will use to determine when to close schools and quarantine students and staff; allow teachers to either educate students virtually or in-person, but not require both; and provide more masks to bus drivers to give to students.

Masks are required in schools and on buses, but bus drivers have reported they have run out of masks to give to students who arrive without them.

Some teachers say the district is not sharing with them in a timely fashion when COVID-19 cases are confirmed among students, which puts their health at risk.

School board member-elect Leroy “Tre” Hutchins said the south Cobb community has been rocked by news that a teacher was admitted to the hospital this week after being diagnosed with COVID-19. That educator, he said, had to be intubated Wednesday and remains in critical condition. The school district has refused to share information on whether the confirmed cases are faculty or students.

November 19, 2020 Marietta - Connie Jackson (foreground), president of Cobb County Association of Educators, leads a peaceful protest rally at the Cobb County Civic Center on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The participants are among the growing number of CCSD staff and nurses who are concerned about how the school district is managing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
November 19, 2020 Marietta - Connie Jackson (foreground), president of Cobb County Association of Educators, leads a peaceful protest rally at the Cobb County Civic Center on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The participants are among the growing number of CCSD staff and nurses who are concerned about how the school district is managing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said during the school board’s work session Thursday afternoon that conditions in the district are “a problem,” and parents and teachers deserve consistent information from the system.

Jackson said teachers with medical conditions that make them high-risk should be allowed to teach from their homes to students learning remotely. Teachers who are healthy and want to be in the classroom should teach students who are coming to school.

“Our teachers are so overwhelmed and so overburdened that they are just at their breaking point,” she said, adding she takes phone calls nightly from teachers who are crying or yelling because they can’t effectively teach both in-person and virtual students simultaneously.

A Cobb County schools spokeswoman said Thursday the district collaborates with the Cobb & Douglas Public Health Department regularly to obtain the latest data about coronavirus and “the safety protocols that keep our students and staff as safe as possible.”

“We appreciate our teachers’ continued commitment to helping each and every student succeed even when our entire school community, state, and nation are facing unprecedented circumstances,” the spokeswoman said. “Our teachers really do make Cobb the best place to learn.”

Tonya Grimmke, a special education teacher in the district, also said she is “disgusted” that some school board members and Superintendent Chris Ragsdale did not wear masks during the board’s work session.

“It’s an absolute, systemic failure from the top down,” she said of the district’s handling of the pandemic.

Another special education teacher, Tiffany Fannin, said teachers sometimes hear news of COVID-19 cases in the district at the same time parent are notified.

School board members Charisse Davis and Jaha Howard both attended the rally in support of the educators’ concerns.

“We have kids in this school district and we care because this is our community, too,” Davis said.

Cobb County, which has seen its enrollment drop from about 113,000 students in the spring to roughly 107,300 students as of Oct. 6, began the 2020-21 school year with remote-only learning and has phased in a return to in-person learning.

The school district has had 615 COVID-19 cases confirmed by the Cobb & Douglas Public Health Department since July 1. It has declined to tell The Atlanta Journal-Constitution how many of those cases are active.

As of last Friday, 53 schools — 28 elementary, 13 middle and 12 high — all have fewer than 10 cases of COVID-19, according to the district’s website that provides a running count of cases. That’s up from 33 schools that had cases during the week of Nov. 6-13. The district, which has 112 schools, updates its website every Friday.

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