MARIETTA — In an emergency meeting two weeks ago, the Cobb Board of Health voted to recommend every K-12 school in the county require masks and vaccinations among eligible students and staff.

Many saw that vote as an attempt to spur a mask mandate in the Cobb County School District, something Superintendent Chris Ragsdale has resisted since the beginning of the school year in August.

Thursday night, Ragsdale swung back.

In a lengthy presentation at the monthly Cobb Board of Education meeting, Ragsdale shared several graphs comparing Cobb schools’ rates of infection with those of other metro Atlanta school districts, some of which have required masks during the pandemic and some of which have not.

In short, Cobb fared no better or worse than districts that required masks, he said.

In the Fulton, Douglas, Cherokee and Paulding county school districts, as well as those in Atlanta and Marietta, per-capita cases of the virus have dropped since late August, the peak of the most recent surge, with Cobb in the middle of the pack as of Sept. 17. The Fulton, Douglas, Atlanta and Marietta districts currently mandate mask-wearing; the others do not.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the school district did require masks. It expected to see far fewer cases than the Forsyth, Paulding, Cherokee and Cartersville districts — none of which required masks — from January to May 2021, as the surge from last winter receded. Cobb was, in fact, in the middle of the pack during that time span.

None of the graphs shared Thursday included Gwinnett or DeKalb counties, large districts that have implemented mask mandates this school year.

Ragsdale said during his presentation the districts shown on the graphs “represent the data in similar and accurate formats, so that you can compare apples-to-apples, instead of how some media outlets have attempted to do — compare apples to, I don’t know, dump trucks.”

District spokeswoman Nan Kiel did not immediately respond to an email Friday afternoon asking what made data from the Gwinnett and DeKalb school districts different from those presented in the graphs Ragsdale shared Thursday.

The superintendent’s presentation was an effort to correct the record after “false media reports” and “some organizations” had misinterpreted or misrepresented data regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Georgia’s schools, he said.

“Unfortunately, we have witnessed, as recent as over the last couple of weeks, some organizations choosing to make decisions based on emotion and or politics,” he said. “While I have been accused of making decisions based on politics, this district has been using data to drive the decision making process.”

Ragsdale also quoted from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published earlier this year that found masking students had no statistically significant benefit in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. That study was conducted during the 2020 winter surge in Georgia, and found there was a benefit to requiring mask-wearing among adults in schools and to improving ventilation within schools.

But the CDC released on Friday a pair of studies that suggest mask mandates in schools “drastically reduce the spread of Covid-19 among children,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

“This district is not, has not, nor will not be anti-mask,” Ragsdale said. “We strongly encourage mask utilization. We strongly encourage those that are comfortable to become vaccinated. However, we are focused on that being your decision as a parent, as a family, as an employee.”

Masking has been a hot-button issue in Cobb County. August’s Board of Education meeting drew dozens of people who protested the district’s mask-optional policy, as well as dozens of counter-protesters who came to show their support for the district’s hands-off approach.

Hundreds rally over masks at district HQ, as superintendent remains firm on policy

Democrats on the board have repeatedly asked that school board Chairman Randy Scamihorn place on the agenda of board meetings a discussion regarding coronavirus spread and protocols, to no avail.

At a meeting Thursday afternoon, the board’s three Democrats — Dr. Jaha Howard, Charisse Davis and Tre Hutchins — voted against approving the proposed agenda of their evening meeting, as it did not include a discussion on the coronavirus.

“(COVID) takes up maybe 90% of the communication that I get from parents, and I think it’s appalling that we don’t have it on our agenda again,” Howard said. “And then we celebrate when things go from completely horrible to just regular bad, and send out district communication when there has been no communication from the district for weeks, after multiple requests by at least me and other board members to have weekly communication about where we are with our safety.”

Last Friday, the district issued a press release touting the sharp decline in case numbers in September.

Speaking after the meeting Thursday night, Scamihorn said he had declined to put a discussion on the coronavirus on the agenda again because it would have been fruitless.

“The issue with discussing COVID is, to what end?” Scamihorn said. “Because our audience, our communities say, ‘Follow the health experts.’ … So if that’s true, accepting that to be true, then what is there for us to discuss?”

Moments earlier, when Scamihorn did not allow a question-and-answer session following Ragsdale’s presentation, Howard, Davis and Hutchins stepped off the dais and left, leaving the board’s four Republicans to conclude the meeting.

In an email Friday night, Hutchins explained his reason for leaving mid-meeting. 

"There is an unacceptable culture to be dismissive and silence certain elected officials," Hutchins wrote. "I find it quite disrespectful and refuse to be marginalized. With that being said, I am not obligated to passively accept those micro aggressions."

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(12) comments

Laura Armstrong

Cobb Students are having a GREAT year with masks optional! The district and individual schools came out early and cracked down on ANY type of bullying or mocking between students on either side, and the students seem absolutely fine and find it acceptable that they and their friends have the choice. They've gotten back to the business of LEARNING and are being shown that covid is NOT to fear and NOT to completely take over your life. And we have Superintendent Scamihorn and the republicans on our school board to thank for that. Meanwhile I spoke with a rep for the Tacoma, WA school district yesterday where students at one school were encouraged to eat lunch wearing their masks... the principal told them to chew behind their mask.... those kids are being mentally RUINED with fear and trained to follow dystopian, totalitarian governmental orders. Thank God we live in Cobb!

Laura Armstrong

Correction: I should've said Superintendent Ragsdale.

Also, shame on the democrats for their immature behavior. Did these individuals lie to us when they said they wanted to serve the students to close the "achievement gap" among their constituents? Or are they just there to stir up trouble? Or are they there to try and launch careers as "community organizers" or to catch the attention of some grievance organization? Because they do not act like they care about kids' educations OR teachers who they keep on throwing under the bus. Their Facebook pages are NOTHING but accusations, complaints and fear mongering. Pathetic performance by the democrats on the school board. Shame on them.

Tim Boone

Given the difference in enrollment and the differences in infections shown in the chart. It looks like a lot more kids got sick in COBB than in Marietta. Isn’t the health of our kids the real issue here. Btw there is no way to isolate masking alone as the reason for the rates of infection. This looks more like politics than science.

Howard Peterson

Hey Democrat school board members, you weren't elected to get up and leave meetings!! Get back to work and like biden says, "shut up & pay your taxes"!! He's YOUR leader so PAY ATTENTION!!

David Glass

Those 2 charts might as well have been created by a 4th Grader. They say at the bottom, "adjusted for community spread"...what does that even mean? It means the statistics have been manipulated. Just add up the total cases from the start of the school year and divide by the total student population. Simple. Then compare APS and Marietta (from the time they started masks mandated). Also, cherry picking surrounding counties like Forsyth and Cherokee (instead of Dekalb and Gwinnett) don't paint a fair picture. According to Scamihorn those graphs should have 0.0 - since he was quoted as believing kids can't get Covid. Laura - do you get your information from a website that starts with the letter Q?

Tim Boone

Appreciate your comments.

Laura Armstrong

I got my information from this article, and I get my information about the schools because I have two children in school and am involved. This is NOT about me, this is about the immature democrat representatives for three board posts who have turned their backs on education issues and are following a social justice/radical marxist agenda towards the goal of blowing up our entire school district and furthering their own careers in either politics or as Facebook Stars. Again, shame on them. Cobb County is proof that children should be in school, unmasked and learning, not being forced to huddle in their homes afraid for their lives.

More children died from being murdered in Chicago last year than have died from covid in the entire country. Perhaps that's proof that we should have a vaccine against democrat mayors.

Francisco Silverio

Somebody sounds like a J6 sympathizer. Also, I love how conservatives brag like they’re the only “patriots.” There is little evidence of “community” in your tone ma’am. You are privileged and in denial about the seriousness of this virus.

Allie Bradford

Explain to us how she's privileged. You can't. Just a whine from somebody with a different philosophy who wants to make it personal.

Francisco Silverio

Come on now. Don’t try to deny that privilege. We all know the type. Anyone who claims to be a real “patriot”, with kids in school, who is “involved”, and can afford a subscription to a local paper is, by definition, privileged. Therefore, I’m privileged too. The difference between me, and the aforementioned person who you are defending, is that I believe that we should work together and mask up in order to protect everyone who is not vaccinated, like our children. For some reason, she thinks that her kids are so weak that they can’t handle wearing mask in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Our children will be as strong as we teach them to be. Only a privileged and entitled person would be so callous as to dismiss the seriousness of this virus. I will say this, I fully agree with her sentiments about Chicago. Systemic poverty and a lack of educated mothers and fathers raising their kids contributes to death and destruction in communities. However, that’s a distraction from the issue at hand, which is a virus that has killed more Americans in 1.5 years than all the wars since World War I combined. So, yeah, she’s privileged because she feels empowered to dismiss protocols that will save lives. And for the record, I have served in the Marine Corps for over 25 years. I know what it is to put others above yourself for the greater good. It’s too bad that other so-called “patriots” don’t share the same values as the people who are providing them the freedom that they so dearly cherish.

Tim Boone

I think you better read what the CDC has found. I prefer science over trump politics

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/schools-without-mask-mandates-are-more-likely-to-have-covid-19-outbreaks-cdc-finds/

David Glass

I HAD 3 children in school but didn't want to risk them in school with your unmasked kids. What lessons are you teaching them with your disregard for public health? That is so disappointing. There is no 'mask disease', but my comments are lost on you. There can be no middle ground with this issue. Next time you go for a surgical procedure, ask everyone in the room to remove their masks. You won't, because you're not a real 'patriot', good luck with your Herman Cain nomination.

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