By Rebecca Gaunt
Cobb County School Board Vice-Chairman David Banks, who already made the news this week for emailing false COVID-19 information to the community, continued to disseminate misinformation via email Sunday. Meanwhile, Nickajack Elementary School parents received notification that some classes are going virtual this week.
The Courier was able to verify that at least one Kindergarten class is virtual through Aug. 23 and one second grade class at Nickajack is now virtual through Aug. 25 after parents shared the notification they received. There are additional unconfirmed reports.
The district was asked how many classes were affected and how many positive cases there were to motivate the decision. The response did not acknowledge the situation at Nickajack.
A Cobb County spokesperson wrote, “The totals published by the District every Friday, which can be found here, include all confirmed and active cases of COVID-19. These totals are organized by school, include both weekly and cumulative totals, and are confirmed by both nursing and public health staff. The COVID-19 confirmation and contact tracing process involves layers of confirmation, communication, and collaboration. We encourage media and public questions about school or District COVID-19 totals be directed to the District’s COVID-19 notification page.”
The lack of transparency has many parents questioning Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who is making the decisions without board input, despite requests for a meeting from members Charisse Davis, Jaha Howard and Tre Hutchins.
Ragsdale and the district have not responded to questions about the “protocols” they are using. The Courier previously asked for the threshold of positive cases for a decision like the one made to send East Side fifth graders home for virtual learning. It also asked why the county has abandoned all the mitigation strategies that were in place last year. The district has not been forthcoming.
Last year in a CNN interview with Kate Bolduan, Ragsdale said, “If a face covering is going to be beneficial in limiting the spread, because again that is our top parameter we’re looking at to come back face to face is the high spread, so if we can limit that high spread by wearing face coverings, then absolutely we should be doing that, all of us should be doing that.”
The Courier also reached out to the superintendent to ask why online schooling isn’t being made available to students who selected in person learning by the spring deadline, before the district dropped all the safety measures, including masking, distancing and quarantine. He did not respond.
Dr. Janet Memark, director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health, said last week that it is not safe for children with chronic illness or respiratory issues to attend in person right now, but even those students with documented health issues aren’t being given an option.
Jen, a nurse, feels misled by the county changing its guidelines after she chose in person for her children. After keeping them home for the first week, she and her husband made the difficult decision to withdraw them.
“I officially withdrew my kids from school today. I have no school for them to go to and no definite plan other than not giving them covid,” she wrote. She has since enrolled them in a private online school.
The latest communication from Banks is a forwarded email he received from an unidentified Emery L. who wrote, “Masks do not work on a virus as ALL viruses are simply too small for a mask to stop, in either direction…Also, masks is not the only subject the CDC has lied about. Many other things as well. Omission of facts is a form of lying which they have clearly done. I am also preparing a list of verified things we know about covid 19 and have attached a Draft of that for you as well. Most of the things on the list are facts not known by the general public.”
The two email attachments are filled with conspiracy theories and misinformation about mask efficacy, unproven treatments for COVID-19, and false statistics regarding negative reactions to the vaccine. One also states that the vaccines are ineffective.
Dr. Timothy Lin, a pulmonary/critical care physician, has two children who attend Mountain View Elementary. He treats COVID-19 patients in the ICU and was furious after he read Banks’ email.
“I would like for him to come in and see the 30 COVID patients I’m seeing and try and figure out the statistical probability that only one is vaccinated and the rest are not and tell me how the vaccine doesn’t help,” he said.
Sunday’s email followed the one he sent to parents a few days ago.
“I encourage you to learn the real truth about masks,” he wrote. A bitchute link led to the viral video of Dr. Dan Stock addressing the Mt. Vernon school board in Indiana. Stock’s comments have drawn backlash from the medical community and a rebuttal from Indiana State Department of Health. Stock describes himself as a doctor of functional medicine and he sells supplements on his website.
Banks has come under fire in the past for forwarding debunked emails about immigrants and referring to COVID-19 as the China virus. He has also responded to parents with the phrase “fake news” and personal insults.
Banks is in his third term on the board. The Courier reached out to him for comment but he did not respond.
Russell Sauve’s daughter attends a Cobb middle school in Banks’ district.
“Based on the email attachments and information David Banks continues to spread, he clearly has no understanding of the dangerous reality that is killing Georgians. Banks is putting the lives and safety of students, teachers, staff, and our entire community at risk with his misinformation,” Sauve told the Courier.
Dr. Usha Anand, a Cobb parent who works in a local hospital, told the Courier, “As a frontline physician, I can say with full confidence that masks and following safety precautions was what helped me and many other physicians during this pandemic even so before the vaccine. I have spent up to 20 to 30 minutes with active covid patients in their rooms taking care of them and the main reason I had not fallen sick was the mask and the precautions. Using proper masks, wearing it appropriately along with social distancing is the simplest thing we can do to prevent illness. I am just upset with all the false data that is circulating. If vaccines are fake and dangerous, physicians would not be the first members to get it. Most of us received it the first day to remove the hesitancy among the public because of the rapid production. People who circulate such false information need to be charged.”
Board member Charisse Davis spoke with the Courier by phone. For months there has been online talk of trying to recall board members going in both directions of the party split. She said it’s a very difficult legal process and indicated that she believed that to be an unlikely scenario. Two-thirds of the board could vote to censor a member, but she wasn’t optimistic about that option either.
“What are the optics of turning on one of their own when they don’t like the three of us?” she said. “He’s not the only one that believes this stuff.”
She said she’s in a bad position because parents are reaching out to her to do something.
“People elect board members. That is something they have control over. We’re supposed to be a liaison. The superintendent doesn’t have to talk to a mom who calls, but I should be able to,” she said.
The Courier reached out to all board of education members, the superintendent, John Floresta, chief strategy and accountability officer, and Dr. Memark for this story.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.