‘Fireworks’ at Cobb school board meeting over safety, contract renewal

Four teens hold up signs with pictures of Chris Ragsdale and the word "opposed"

by Rebecca Gaunt

It was another heated meeting for the Cobb County school board Thursday as the Republican board majority extended Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s contract until 2027 in a 4-3 party-line vote, and he used his superintendent remarks to unleash on critics.

During the vote, members of the audience held up signs with photos of Ragsdale and the word “OPPOSED” in all caps.

“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” he told the board.

Shouts of “No confidence!” came from the back of the room, where members of the Cobb Community Care Coalition wore green shirts with “No Confidence in Ragsdale” emblazoned on the front.

Ragsdale paused and Scamihorn banged his gavel for order.

Public commenters then fired on the district over its response to the parking lot shooting at McEachern High School last month. Members of the Coalition also read from Microsoft Teams messages district staff exchanged in a coordinated attempt to block dissenting voices at the September meeting.

Read more here about the messages obtained via open records request: Cobb schools staff acted to silence critics, Teams messages show

Included in the messages read at the podium: Secretary Amanda Chambers messaging Julian (Onan) Coca, director of content and marketing, to warn him 15 people were already in line for public comment.

Coca replied, “Are they all bad guys?”

The messages show that eight members of the staff were involved in moving the line for public comment abruptly to make those waiting, primarily critics of Ragsdale, lose their spots. Chief of Strategy and Accountability John Floresta was one of them. Their actions resulted in physical confrontations and police intervention. Coca warned the staff in advance to prepare for “fireworks.”

Parent Micheal Garza read from messages in which staff admitted to looking into a student’s file for personal information and joked about hitting on students in the public comment line.

“How can the superintendent protect our students from outside threats when he can’t even protect them from his own leadership team?” he asked.

McEachern parents and students spoke to what they saw as a lacking response. At the afternoon session, Lola Adesanya shared about her son who was missing for eight hours after the shooting. She blamed a lack of communication between the school and district about the parent reunification location, and asked for improvements to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.

It has been a month since her son was found at almost 1 a.m., and no one from the district office has reached out to her, she told the Courier.

Read more here: “Failure in communication’ caused Cobb student to go missing for 8 hours, mom says

Sade Brooker, a McEachern sophomore, told the board, “When will our principal take responsibility and when will she start talking about what matters more than our reputation?”

Tina Williams, a parent, followed with criticism of McEachern principal Regina Montgomery’s handling of fights at the school and three gun incidents.

“We are a community in distress,” she said.

Two Cobb students also shared their personal experiences with anti-Semitism at different schools.

Ragsdale thundered back during his remarks, insisting that Cobb is one of the safest school districts.

While addressing the parking lot shooting at McEachern that injured two people, he was jeered for referring to it as an event.

“A tragedy!” yelled an audience member.

“I know there have been many to offer comments-opinions-and ideas for future action regarding the shooting in the McEachern parking lot,” he said, emphasizing “opinions.”

Audience members jeered again when he referred people with questions about safety plans to the district website, Cobb Shield.

“There have been some to suggest that a safety plan was not present for McEachern, or that it was not followed, and that if a plan exists, it should be given to certain politicians for their perusal and even approval,” he said.

“There have also been some to suggest that the principal should resign or be terminated. Let me be very clear. Regina Montgomery was the principal of McEachern High School on Feb. 1, 2024 and acted according to policy and procedure. Regina Montgomery is the principal of McEachern High School, and Regina Montgomery will continue to be the principal of McEachern High School.”

Ragsdale said it was no surprise to him that the same people asking for resource officers to be removed from schools were now requesting more.

“Nobody said that,” Coalition member Jennifer Susko interjected from the audience.

Scamihorn asked police officers to remove the disrupters. Parent Melissa Marten, who was one of the parents who read staff messages during public comment, was removed to the lobby after verbally objecting to the superintendent’s comments accusing objectors of belonging to political groups.

“What political group? I’m a mother!” Marten called out.

Melissa Marten read from staff messages coordinating to push critics out of line. She was one of the speakers who lost her spot in September.

Ragsdale became more vehement in his speech.

“There will apparently always be those who choose to make up their own version of the truth. A polite way to say that they lie. And you can come at me with all of your lies, but do not even attempt to come at my principals, my teachers, or my team. They’re all too far and work too high to stoop to your level,” he said.

However, State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs) said Floresta told him at the first safety town hall that McEachern had filed its school safety plan as required by House Bill 147 and that the authorities were aware of it. But Wilkerson confirmed to the Courier that he spoke to law enforcement agencies and they said they did not have the plan before the Feb. 1 shooting.

He posted a comment responding to Ragsdale in a Cobb schools Facebook group Friday tagging the Cobb County School District.

Wilkerson was present for both safety town halls that board member Leroy Tre’ Hutchins held for McEachern families with seemingly little to no support from the district. Ragsdale was criticized by community members at both for not attending.

“You have my cell phone. I texted you on Feb 14th to say thank you for allowing families to meet at McEachern for the school board member to discuss safety issues. There’s no reason to make untrue statements in a public meeting. The safety of our students should be more important than trying to score political points. Feel free to give me a call,” he wrote.

Hear Ragsdale’s comments at the 2/29 meeting in full at 1:01:05: Watch Meetings Online (cobbk12.org)

As for the staff messages that revealed the truth about what occurred in September, Democratic board member Nichelle Davis, shook her head and said, “We knew it. But I expected better.”

Democratic board member Becky Sayler said, “People who come to speak at public comment are parents, teachers, property owners, employees and students. They are not bad guys. They should be treated with respect. I’m disappointed to see they weren’t and will keep it in mind as I continue to do my job.”

All board members, Ragsdale, and Chief of Cobb County School District Police Ron Storey were contacted for comment.

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.