The Southern Poverty Law Center and two metro Atlanta law firms have sued the Cobb County School District, arguing its mask-optional policy and other coronavirus protocols "unlawfully denies students with disabilities access to a safe, in-person learning environment."
The plaintiffs are four district students with disabilities, each between 7 and 15 years old.
The lawsuit names as defendants the district, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and all seven members of the district's Board of Education.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia’s Atlanta Division, is seeking an emergency court order that would require the district to "immediately begin implementing CDC guidelines for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools."
When reached by phone Friday evening, board Chairman Randy Scamihorn declined to comment, saying it was a legal matter. District spokeswoman Nan Kiel did not immediately return an email Friday seeking comment.
The coronavirus is most deadly for the elderly and those with preexisting health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plaintiffs argue that anything less than CDC-recommended protocols puts their lives at risk and forces them into substandard virtual classes, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The latter "prohibits government entities from denying individuals with disabilities equal access to public benefits and services," according to a news release from the SPLC.
In the 2020-2021 school year, the school district followed CDC protocols, among them the requirement that all students wear masks in school buildings.
Ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, Ragsdale announced the district would give parents and students the option of wearing masks, while maintaining or tweaking other coronavirus protocols.
But a surge in new infections spurred by the delta variant led to calls for Ragsdale to reinstate a mask mandate and protests — as well as counter protests — outside the district's Marietta headquarters.
In September, the Cobb Board of Health called an "emergency meeting" at which it voted to recommend universal masking in county schools.
Undeterred, Ragsdale gave a lengthy presentation at the Sept. 24 meeting of the Cobb Board of Education, arguing that data show the school district has fared no better or worse during the pandemic than neighboring districts with and without mask mandates.