MARIETTA — Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale does not intend to stop in-person instruction.
“We’re not looking to take the entire district to virtual learning,” the superintendent said at a school board work session Thursday.
Although the county has seen a recent rise in coronavirus cases and public health officials warn of further spread around the holidays, Ragsdale said the health department advised that schools are not areas with high community spread.
School board member Charisse Davis asked Ragsdale for more specifics on data the district uses to determine when and whether to close a classroom or a school. Ragsdale said there isn’t a threshold the district uses to make those decisions, though they are in “constant communication” with Cobb-Douglas Public Health for guidance.
“There are no metrics,” he said. “There is not a trigger, a number or a level or anything like that that’s going to say, OK, you close the classroom or you close the school.”
The superintendent added that at one point the district nearly closed a school due to COVID-19 infections, but contact tracing from public health determined the cases were not related.
Ragsdale also said district staff are considering adding a second window, in the middle of the spring semester, for parents to decide whether to have their students learn in the classroom or remotely.
School board member Jaha Howard said this was new information to him, adding even knowing it was up for consideration could influence his decision as a parent whether to enroll his children in face-to-face or remote learning.
Ragsdale said he shared that in “multiple phone conversations.”
“That’s not true,” Howard said.
“We’re just going to have to agree to disagree, because I won’t be called a liar,” Ragsdale said.
The announcement came a few hours before more than a dozen Cobb teachers and staff met to protest what they said was the district’s lack of transparency and adequate safety measures in response to COVID-19.
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said more would have shown up, but many are afraid of retaliation that could affect their jobs.
The protesters had four demands: establish a matrix with data points guiding district decisions on whether to close classes and schools in response to COVID-19 community spread; allow all schools to separate in-person classes and virtual ones to avoid teachers conducting both; allow teachers with medical conditions to teach virtual classes remotely; and provide masks to bus drivers and enforce wearing masks on school buses.
Jackson said at least two teachers have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus, and one is in intensive care.
“I don’t want to sit back and let a teacher die because they were teaching,” she said. “Parents are not being told all the truth. Teachers are terrified. Teachers are frustrated and all of that needs to come together and be addressed by our school district. All we want is transparency, consistency and equity.”
Tonya Grimmke, a teacher in the school district, said she’s concerned that school district leaders are not taking the pandemic seriously enough. She said she’s seen board members not wearing masks in meetings, which is like a “slap in the face.”
“I wonder how many people have to die? How many teachers have to die? How many bus drivers have to die before people start taking it seriously?” she said.