Thursday marked one month since George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody, and Cobb County Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale used the day to comment on the event that sparked a global movement against racism and police brutality.
Ragsdale, who leads Georgia’s second-largest school district, spoke at length at the beginning of the Cobb County School Board’s Thursday meeting. The meeting later became contentious as board members discussed whether to pass a resolution denouncing racism. With no consensus, the board postponed a vote until next month.
Ragsdale said the world was rocked by the “act of evil” committed when former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even as Floyd pleaded he could not breathe. Chauvin and three other officers were charged in connection with Floyd’s death.
However, Ragsdale said the public should not judge all officers by the actions of the four former Minneapolis cops.
“We have to stop the hate. We have seen a divisiveness that has taken hold and it has to be broken,” Ragsdale said. “We have to come together as all for the greater good. Not everyone is going to agree with what you say but that is the very definition of diversity. We all have different ideas. We are going to continue to support each and every one of our students as individual people.” Ragsdale did not return requests for comment for this story on Friday.
School Board Chairman Brad Wheeler said Ragsdale’s comments reflect who he is as superintendent to 113,000 students and 18,000 staff members. “I truly believe his heart is in the right place,” he said.
Ragsdale’s comments were an attempt to reach all system employees, students and parents, Wheeler said.
Cobb County is a majority-minority school district. According to the district, 37% of its students identify as white, 30% as Black, 22% as Hispanic, 6% as Asian, 4% as two or more races, and 1% identifying as Pacific Islander or Native American.
The majority of Americans identify as Christian, Ragsdale said at the meeting. If that is the case, he said the majority of people in the United States should abide by Bible verse Matthew 7:12, known as the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.
“It’s not an option,” he said. “It’s not a suggestion. It’s how you should live.”
Board member Charisse Davis, who is Black, said that protests following Floyd’s death were about affirming that Black lives matter and asked if Ragsdale could say that. Ragsdale did not say the phrase, but said his comments were a reflection on how he lives his life.
Another Black board member, Dr. Jaha Howard, said when it comes to religion many Christians “have been some of the biggest perpetrators of systemic racism in this country.”
“Let’s be honest enough (to acknowledge) where we have significant blind spots,” he said. “Let’s listen to George Floyd’s brother and say ‘enough is enough’.”
Dr. Jillian Ford, a member of the Stronger Together organization, which has asked the school district to take more of an active role in addressing racism in the system, said the superintendent’s comments show he is not interested in changing his tune.
“He has dug his heels in,” she said of his position that the school district does not have a problem with racism.
Stronger Together and La Gente de Cobb on Monday will present a letter asking Ragsdale and the school board to consider several items they believe would create a more equitable atmosphere in schools. Some of those items include eliminating the school police force; hiring more Black teachers, administrators, district-level employees, counselors, nurses and social workers; and offering ethnic and race studies courses.
Watching Thursday’s meeting was Kesi (pronounced Casey) Felton, a 2016 graduate of North Cobb High School who recently wrote about her own experiences with racism in the district. Felton, a student at Howard University, said the entire meeting was “a little frustrating to watch” because of the superintendent’s refusal to say Black Lives Matter.
“It was surprising because you could see why we keep getting the results we are getting,” she said, referring to the district’s refusal to talk about racism within the system.
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