By Rebecca Gaunt
Parents fed up with Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s lack of response to their COVID-19 safety concerns gathered Friday outside the Hilton Atlanta/Marietta Hotel & Conference Center, where Ragsdale was scheduled to address the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club.
It’s not just about masks, worried parents emphasized. They don’t understand why all the district-wide mitigation strategies from last year were dropped. Crowded cafeterias are a particular source of contention. Last year schools utilized classrooms and other parts of the school for meals. Shorter quarantine periods for school-based exposure than for outside community exposure are also causing confusion.
Updated COVID-19 case numbers were released by Cobb County School District Friday. The cumulative total has grown by more than a thousand cases, from 1,764 last week to 2,797.
East Side Elementary had the most cumulative cases of the elementary schools with 106. Nickajack was second with 61 and Baker third with 56.
Barber Middle School had 60, followed by Cooper Middle at 42 and Griffin Middle with 35.
Sprayberry High School reported 120 cumulative cases, Walton High 67, and Allatoona High is at 57.
Leah Bulow was one of the parents standing in the heat with a sign on Powder Springs Street. She is a physical therapist who provides home health care and works with recovering COVID-19 patients.
“A lot of the patients are now bedbound where they can’t stabilize their oxygen, even though they’re home on supplemental oxygen. A couple patients are no longer able to walk right now, can’t do stairs, a lot of weakness and deconditioning,” Bulow told the Courier. “I’m seeing a lot of long haulers. I think my biggest take home about the point that COVID might not kill you-I’m seeing how it’s affecting the quality of life. People are coming home and their lives are still completely changed due to the virus.”
Melissa Haginhas two daughters in Cobb schools. They have missed seven days in the first three weeks of school and she’s had to give them COVID tests three times. She said it was a challenge to keep them up to date on work since the district does not have a cohesive plan for students out for quarantine.
“Last year was hard. It was hard for everybody…but it’s something I would do for the safety of my children. Their lives are too important,” she said when asked if she’d consider virtual school if CCSD made the option available.
Ragsdale announced last week that limited virtual slots would be made available via a lottery, but those classes won’t start until January. The original virtual sign up window for the current school year closed in the spring when case numbers were lower and the district still had mitigation strategies, including a mask mandate, in place.
Armed with handmade signs, the protesters received a mix of supportive honks and waves, along with a few thumbs down signals and head shaking.
Parent Jenny Peterson spoke with newly-elected state Rep. Devan Seabaugh (R-Kennesaw) in the parking lot, pleading with him to speak to Ragsdale about implementing safety protocols. She said he asked her if her children were wearing masks, and she pointed to her own KN95 mask as an example of what her family uses.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called on school districts to implement multi-layered mitigation strategies in a Friday briefing.
“I want to strongly appeal to those districts who have not implemented prevention strategies and encourage them to do the right thing to protect the children under their care,” Walensky said.
According to a Facebook post by Wellstar Health Systems Friday, Wellstar is caring for 668 COVID-19 patients – an increase of 27 patients from yesterday’s cases of 641.
Of the current cases, 613 are unvaccinated. A total of 153 people are in the ICU (148 unvaccinated) and a total of 116 people are on ventilators (113 unvaccinated).
Laura Judge also attended the protest. She pulled her two kids out of Cobb schools because of Ragsdale’s handling of COVID-19. They now attend a virtual charter school.
“I think that power is driving him because he wants to prove he’s right and our kids are at the bad end of the stick,” she said.