Cobb students’ invention wins state competition; team declines Cobb school board recognition over mask request

Three student winners of InVenture Prize at Georgia TechThe members of Team Recycle: Dylan Merrill, Zoe Diaz and Mia Rhea (photo provided by Kerri Merrill)

By Rebecca Gaunt

Three Cobb County sixth graders won the InVenture Prize at Georgia Tech for the recycling app they invented last year when they were fifth graders at Mt. Bethel Elementary School, but have declined being recognized by the Cobb County Board of Education and Superintendent Chris Ragsdale after their advance request for everyone to wear masks during the recognition was denied.

Dylan Merrill, Zoe Diaz and Mia Rhea won the competition at the school level and advanced to the state competition. They came in first for their division and went on to the national competition.


After doing research on recycling, the three girls realized many people don’t recycle properly. As part of their Target class, with the help of their teacher Ms. Danner, they created blueprints for an app that can scan items to find out if they are recyclable or not. It also includes informational articles and interactive games.

“We sadly did not win anything at Nationals, but felt pride in our work for becoming the first team at our school to ever make it that far. This is why I am so disappointed that some of Cobb’s board won’t wear a mask to honor us for this accomplishment,” Dylan Merrill wrote in an email.

Kerri Merrill, Dylan’s mother, said the invitation came from the district office by way of the Mt. Bethel principal. Initially, they turned it down due to the fact that the board meeting was scheduled on Yom Kippur and two members of the team are Jewish.

On the heels of an anti-Semitic vandalism incident at Pope High School, the meeting was rescheduled for Sep. 23 and the invitation to be recognized and take a photo with the superintendent and board was extended again. Since two of the girls are too young to be vaccinated, the parents requested everyone wear a mask during the recognition.

The principal passed the request along to the district and received this response, which he shared with the parents in an email: “Per District Protocol, masks are strongly encouraged but remain optional.”

Kerri wrote, “We are beyond frustrated and disheartened that the majority of board members could not agree to put on a mask for the five minute photo op with these kids who cannot be vaccinated.”

Cobb dropped the mask mandate that was in place last year over the summer. The three Black Democratic board members have expressed support for masks and the implementation of other mitigation strategies. They have also requested that COVID-19 safety protocols be added to the agenda for board discussion, but have been unsuccessful due to a lack of support from Ragsdale or the four white Republican board members. Last year the board majority voted to change the requirement for adding an item to the agenda from having the support of three board members to four, effectively silencing them.

Chairman Randy Scamihorn and Vice Chairman David Banks have also come under fire for sharing false information about COVID-19 with the public during phone calls and in email.

“I feel so disappointed about the majority of Cobb’s board members for not agreeing to wear a mask to honor my friends and I. Two of my friends (one of which is one also being honored) wear masks and still got the Coronavirus. In my opinion, our board members are not setting a very good example for kids. These members of the board should be able to wear a mask for 5-10 minutes to congratulate a couple of kids, especially when we can wear them all day,” Dylan wrote to the Courier.

Ragsdale and some members of the board were criticized last year when former school counselor Jennifer Susko asked everyone to put on masks for a moment of silence in honor of Patrick Key, a teacher who died of COVID-19. Neither Ragsdale, nor any board members not already wearing a mask put one on.

The parents are working with board member Charisse Davis to coordinate an outdoor photo with Team Recycle.

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.


20 Comments on "Cobb students’ invention wins state competition; team declines Cobb school board recognition over mask request"

  1. These kids are the future. Congratulations on their achievement and strength to stand up for what’s right.

  2. What’s up with the journalistic trend of capitalizing Black and leaving white in lowercase?

  3. So disappointing. Congrats kiddos!
    I am surprised to see race mentioned in this article as it seems entirely irrelevant, especially since the divide between political parties could have been used here. A solid way to bridge the gap between races is to stop highlighting the differences when it is not necessary. IMHO.

    • Hi. I’m the editor, and posted this in response to a comment above:

      I’m the editor, and I consider the racial aspects of this very relevant. Last November four white school board members blocked three Black school board members from even putting items on the agenda without a white sponsor. That’s stark and relevant.

  4. Thanks for the context surrounding the inclusion of racial identifiers Rebecca. For some reason the posted comments don’t show until/unless you post a comment. I see now that this has been addressed.

  5. Great article other than mentioning the race of the board members. That doesn’t seem necessary and makes this seem like more of a culture war than the news. I suppose the entire article is meant to be a political jab, but at least make your article based on ideology other than race.

    • I’m the editor, and I consider the racial aspects of this very relevant. Last November four white school board members blocked three Black school board members from even putting items on the agenda without a white sponsor. That’s stark and relevant.

      • Of course you consider it relevant, you’re a leftist consumed by intersectional tribalism.

        You think that every case of unequal outcome must be caused by the hierarchy of victimhood, when in actuality racism is rarely to blame.
        Your constant focus on what makes people different is antithetical to a functional society.

      • Hi Larry – thanks for the response. I understand what you’re saying, but you’re assuming racism when these board members are divided on party lines. You’re implying that the outcome would be different if they were white democrats, and I doubt that’s the case. As someone without a party affiliation, an unbiased view of this is that people tend to vote with their party. Even if their politics were dirty, it’s unfair to assume it was racially and not politically motivated. Regardless, I appreciate the coverage of local news stories.

  6. I am curious what research you have reviewed/compiled to determine whether what Mr. Banks and Mr. Snadihorn shared with parents was in fact false. As you stated in your article. With regard to the information shared by Mr. Scandihorn did you go to the source review the abundance of data provided for that information, reach out to the Doctor himself to discuss, or did you in fact just say it was false. The information and data is readily available in the public domain which the doctor has created a website for and you can reach out to him as well and they do respond. If the information is in fact false, I think we all are trying to get the data to
    Understand what is best for our family and kids, so if you have been able to validate the information to be false why was that not shared in your article.

    Also, one of the board members you indicate expressed support for the masks was in a picture with Walton High for fast pitch softball in a group picture with no mask so how does that demonstrate her support?

    I struggle with how to protect my family and kids while allowing them to live so I would appreciate you sharing with everyone the information you have to substantiate and prove the information shared by birds members was false. Have you taken that step or are following the lead of what someone else said without substantiating the truth.

    Also, have you considered the latest case counts of active cases reported last week compared to the prior week or on a school

    Based the actually number of cases at an individual school compared with the total school population. I have and I have tracked the data weekly and it is quite enlightening as well.

  7. Maybe the three accomplished girls would serve us even better by joining the board? “What’s the matter with kids these days”? Nothing! But supposedly mature, educated adults sure can be petty. And yes, Ms. Gaunt’s interjection of the race/politics is absolutely relevant to the story. It’s unfortunate that thin skinned people are uncomfortable with the truth…

  8. Congrats to girls for winning. Good job.
    What a shame to 75 years old Ragsdale who act like a little toddler.

  9. Since the editor feels so inclined that race was relevant in this situation why not have everyone identified that way? I would suggest you might need to actually ask folks as to how they identify themselves. Congrats to the children for their efforts! They seem to be the only worthy ones in this article. All the adults including the author seem to have another agenda.

  10. Once again, race and politics are being weaponized to further an agenda which appears to be to pit readers against certain members of the board. Focus on the accomplishments of the children and celebrate them instead.

  11. I work for the Cobb County School District and I am troubled how kids have been actually convinced that wearing a mask is protection against contracting COVID. A study was done to analyze kid’s freshly washed mask after wearing them for 5 hours and the findings were horrifying. The bacteria and germs they are rebreathing are off the charts. The kids health is being jeopardized due to adults telling them they have to wear a mask. If they really cared and used science to initiate a process, they would understand that for the mask to be effective, they would need to change it out about every hour. Wake Up America! Now you are harming kids with your mask mandates.

  12. As a mom of 3 now adult kids who worked hard & learned so much in Science Olympiad & Science Fairs, I am saddened to see these young WINNERS miss getting honored in that ceremony. Instead of learning cooperation in the name of science & health to protect others, they observed the rancor of division & petty politics & uncooperation in our School Board. How easy it wd have been to don a mask to protect children for a short ceremony! GREAT JOB, GIRLS! BE PROUD YOUR HARD WORK PRODUCED A WINNER!

  13. P.S. And health for community should trump individual civil liberties. Common sense.

  14. I see someone’s parents have brainwashed them with political props.

    Good for the council for refusing to play a part in the lefts political theater.

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