SPLC along with two local law firms file suit against Cobb school district

coronavirus imposed on Cobb County School District signagePhoto by Larry Johnson composited with public domain image from the CDC (created by LFJ)

About a week after sending a letter to the Cobb County School District, threatening legal action, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and two local law firms filed a federal lawsuit against the school district this afternoon.

The defendants include the Cobb County School District, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, and the school board and its individual members.

The basis of the lawsuit is the contention by the plaintiffs that the district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by ignoring CDC guidelines for COVID precautions, to the detriment of students with disabilities and underlying medical conditions.

“Students with disabilities that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 should not have to lose educational opportunities because of the district’s dangerous and irresponsible decision to stop following CDC guidelines that would protect all students,” said Claire Sherburne, SPLC staff attorney. “Just like any other child, our clients have a right to attend school with their peers in a safe learning environment and should not be deprived of that right because of their disabilities.” 

The suit was filed on behalf of four Cobb County students and their parents. To read the entire lawsuit please follow this link.

The preliminary statement in the lawsuit begins:

Pediatric hospitalizations, deaths, and other long term negative health consequences of COVID-19 are preventable when families, communities, and schools collectively share responsibility to limit disease transmission. Plaintiffs bring this action because the Cobb County School District (“District”), led by Defendant Ragsdale and a majority of the Cobb County Board of Education (“Board”), refuse to do their part to protect Plaintiffs and ensure their access to a
safe in-person learning environment.

Plaintiffs L.E., B.B., A.Z., and C.S. (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) are
students with disabilities, enrolled in the District, who have underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible to experiencing serious illness or death if they
contract COVID-19.

The conditions of the four students enumerated in the lawsuit are acute myeloid leukemia (“AML”), Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (“DMD”), bronchiectasis with a history of pneumonia, and asthma with a history of pneumonia.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.

SPLC’s legal partners in the lawsuit are the Goodmark Law Firm and the Law Office of Allison B. Vrolijk.

The Goodmark Law Firm’s focus is education, civil rights, and constitutional law. The Law Office of Allison B. Vrolijk specializes in law related to students with disabilities.

In a press release (which we’ve reprinted at the bottom of this article) issued this afternoon, the SPLC stated:

In May 2021, parents were required to sign a commitment form for in-person or virtual learning during the 2021-22 school year. In June, as the number of COVID-19 cases surged in Cobb County and surrounding areas, the district, led by Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and four school board members, Scamihorn, Chastain, Banks, and Wheeler, who form a politically and race driven majority voting bloc, decided to end mask requirements. They also relaxed the other COVID-19 safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for K-12 settings. This left many families, including the plaintiffs, forced to choose between their children’s health or their education. 

[Editor’s note: the Cobb County School District has announced they will no longer answer questions from the Courier.

We will continue to reach out to them for response when we cover topics involving the district, because it’s the professional thing to do.

However, we will not delay publishing a story awaiting their response.

If they return to standards of professionalism in their relations with the media, we will return to holding articles for a reasonable amount of time for their responses — LFJ]

The press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center

The following is the press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 1, 2021  

Students with Disabilities and Their Parents Sue Cobb County School District for Discrimination in Federal Court 

ATLANTA – The Cobb County School District’s failure to implement and enforce recommended safety protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in its schools unlawfully denies Cobb County students with disabilities access to a safe, in-person learning environment, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the district today on behalf of four Cobb County students and their parents.  

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia’s Atlanta Division, describes how students with disabilities and medical conditions are being harmed by the school district’s lack of COVID-19 protocols. The school district blatantly ignored the rights of students with disabilities to safe accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which prohibits government entities from denying individuals with disabilities equal access to public benefits and services.  

The students and their parents are seeking an emergency court order requiring the Cobb County School District to immediately begin implementing CDC guidelines for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools so students can access safe, in-person education opportunities. The student plaintiffs have medical conditions that make them more susceptible to severe illnesses if they were to contract COVID-19, including Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, obstructed breathing and severe asthma, and a compromised immune system resulting from childhood leukemia.  

Between March 22 and May 2, 2021 [Editor’s note: an earlier version of this stated “in May 2021,” and we have corrected to give the full date range] parents were required to sign a commitment form for in-person or virtual learning during the 2021-22 school year. In June, as the number of COVID-19 cases surged in Cobb County and surrounding areas, the district, led by Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and four school board members, Scamihorn, Chastain, Banks, and Wheeler, who form a politically and race driven majority voting bloc, decided to end mask requirements. They also relaxed the other COVID-19 safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for K-12 settings. This left many families, including the plaintiffs, forced to choose between their children’s health or their education. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and two Atlanta area law firms, Goodmark Law Firm and the Law Office of Allison B. Vrolijk, are representing them in the lawsuit.  

“Students with disabilities that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 should not have to lose educational opportunities because of the district’s dangerous and irresponsible decision to stop following CDC guidelines that would protect all students,” said Claire Sherburne, SPLC staff attorney. “Just like any other child, our clients have a right to attend school with their peers in a safe learning environment and should not be deprived of that right because of their disabilities.” 

COVID-19 and variants of the virus have led to more than 40 million cases and nearly 700,000 deaths in the United States. According to the Georgia Tech Event Risk Assessment Tool, there is a 41% chance of someone being infected with COVID-19 in a group of 25 people in Cobb County, the typical size of a Cobb County K-12 classroom. For a group of 100 in Cobb County, the typical size gathered in a K-12 cafeteria for lunch, the risk is 88%. 

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2 Comments on "SPLC along with two local law firms file suit against Cobb school district"

  1. Hopefully the county can recover its legal fees from this publicity stunt.

  2. How many children are hospitalized with COVID in Cobb County? Has even one died? I hope the county takes these jokers to court and exposes them for the frauds that they are.

    FLU season is fast approaching, I wonder if the miracle of it’s absence will happen again.

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