Cobb Schools superintendent announces new security protocols for district; angry jeers from audience members at meeting’s end

Several audience members in brightly colored shirts stand holding hands at Cobb school board meetingCobb residents in orange shirts with signs decrying gun violence stand during Cobb Board of Education meeting (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

By Rebecca Gaunt

Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale provided an update Thursday regarding district safety protocols in the wake of the mass shooting at an Uvalde, Texas elementary school that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Many details of the Centegix CrisisAlert system will remain under wraps in the interest of safety, he said. It operates similarly to the previous system it’s replacing, Alert Point, with push-button badges for staff to signal an emergency. He said he would not disclose specific timelines or protocols, but did share that it would be installed by Aug. 1.

Photo by Rebecca Gaunt

Schools will have at least one annual unannounced Code Red drill, but they will not include a person role-playing as an intruder.

Ragsdale also reiterated comments he made previously that he would not arm teachers. However, he hasn’t ruled out arming other staff or recruiting retired military and law enforcement.

Board member Randy Scamihorn urged staff not to discuss the new protocols because “evil will seek out information.”

Citizens gathered in a circle to for a moment of silence to honor victims of gun violence.(Photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

Some concerned parents attended in neon orange shirts to draw attention to the issue. While recent events surrounding gun violence have heightened awareness of the issue, safety has been a contentious issue ever since the district’s Alert Point system was hacked in February 2021 resulting in a false alarm that some staff and students believed to be real.

Concerns were raised about lack of staff training on Alert Point and the $5 million cost of a new system, installed in 2017, that is no longer in use.

Despite acknowledging that not all staff had received badges or training on Alert Point, Ragsdale said that it was “fully operational.”

“That’s not the system we were promised…he acknowledged everyone didn’t have a badge,” said Heather Tolley-Bauer.

She emphasized that she’s a fan of the idea, but the implementation was the problem.

Watching the Funds–Cobb, a watchdog group of which Tolley-Bauer is a member, has been sounding the alarm about Alert Point for months. Members’ previous efforts to get information about the status of the system from the district had been unsuccessful, even after recruiting assistance from 11Alive news.

Between the work and voting sessions, community members gathered outside to make signs. Then they gathered in a circle to share their concerns with one another.

“We have failed leadership,” parent Jenny Peterson said, describing her frustration with the lack of communication from the district.

What they hope to see implemented in schools are anti-bullying programs, the reinstatement of No Place for Hate, and lower ratios of students to school counselors and social workers.

“We can ask [CCSD] to address this by educating and enriching the minds of our young folks so they don’t want to resort to that kind of violence,” Mindy Seger said.

During public comment she urged the district to implement the Be SMART program for gun safety.

At the work session, board member Dr. Jaha Howard pressed Sherri Hill, chief school leadership officer, on whether the district had set goals for decreasing counselor to student ratios. Hill said they would “continue to look at that” but had been hiring additional social workers every year.

The current district ratio is one counselor to 370 students and one social worker to 3,000 students.

Hill also said that two new anti-bullying programs would roll out for the next school year.

Parent Laura Judge told the board during public comment she was frustrated that the district received $160 million in American Rescue Plan funds, but none was requested in the category of mental health initiatives.

Howard also pressed Ragsdale for details on the Centegix company, citing his concerns after what happened with Alert Point. Ragsdale directed him to the company website.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System filed a lawsuit against Centegix in 2020, saying it didn’t work properly or consistently.

Ragsdale said he hopes the district will be allowed to use money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) for additional security measures.

Ragsdale ended the evening voting session without revisiting the safety issue from the work session. Members of the audience jeered and demanded a discussion.

The superintendent and several board members quickly exited as police officers stood in front of the angry audience members.

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.