It takes a special person to want to make a career out of trying to change young lives for the better, especially in Cobb County. Can I get an “Amen,” Cobb County public schoolteachers?

Teachers are expected to close the door on all the ills of a society that they didn’t cause and teach a hungry or an over-privileged kid geometry while being second-guessed by a bunch of ingrates who couldn’t carry their book bag;

They have had to endure Republican legislators in the county constantly promoting schemes to take tax dollars out of the state budget to send kids to private schools with those dollars – an implied signal that schoolteachers are not doing their job. (You should have flunked their ungrateful fannies when you had the chance.)

They have watched a publicity-seeking gadfly encourage students to walk out of class during a school day so he could make a point about a piece of legislation he didn’t like concerning illegal aliens.

And who can forget the now long-gone superintendent who went home during the infamous Snowmageddon ice storm in 2014, leaving teachers and staff to fend for themselves in a cold, dark school room or in their car on the side of the road.

But none of that comes close to the challenge teachers are facing today. We are talking not about their livelihood. We are talking about their lives and COVID-19. And a school board that doesn’t seem to give a rat’s rump about them. They are too busy playing politics – Democrats and Republicans – and promoting their personal agendas.

Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, calls this current school board, “the worst I have seen in my eleven years of dealing with the board.”

Students returned to the classroom this week amid concerns many teachers have about their own safety. More than 100 teachers, students, parents and supporters crowded the parking lot outside the Cobb County Board of Education last Thursday to demand the school district continue with remote-only instruction.

What they got for their trouble was a big fat deaf ear. At the board’s work session, the subject never came up.

Jackson says, “I find it reprehensible that our school board and superintendent will not even discuss this matter during a public school board meeting. These people have the lives of thousands of employees and students in their hands and now they have the blood of three dedicated educators also on their hands.”

The three educators to whom Jackson refers are Cynthia Lindsey, a paraprofessional at Sedalia Park Elementary; Dana Johnson, a first-grade teacher at Kemp Elementary and Hendricks Elementary School kindergarten art teacher Patrick Key. All three passed away as a result of COVID-19. Lindsey and Johnson died within hours of each other last Thursday. Key died on Christmas Day.

Nobody can even agree on the impact of the virus on the first week back. New board member Tre Hutchins says he heard from parents and staff that at least 129 teachers in South Cobb were out the first day. A school district spokesperson said the district “had not noticed any significant difference in teachers reporting to be sick.” Board Chair Randy Scamihorn said while he had heard that some schools had more than normal teacher absences, he had heard “not one complaint.” Clearly, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

I never thought I would agree with anything flame-throwing board member Jaha Howard said or did but his letter to Gov. Brian Kemp asking for him to prioritize access to the COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and staff and to provide medical-grade face masks for all school staff members was on point. Collecting anonymous feedback from public education staff was not.

The letter was signed by fellow board members Tre Hutchins and Charisse Davis – all Democrats – along with several area school boards. Missing were the signatures of any of the Republicans on the Cobb school board.

I will excuse a lot of things in politics because there are a lot of things in politics that need excusing. But this one I won’t: The Cobb County Board of Education’s behavior at last Thursday’s meeting.

An employee, Jennifer Susko, asked for a moment of silence in honor of Patrick Key and requested that board members who weren't wearing masks put them on "as a tribute to this teacher who did everything you asked of him, even teaching through a pandemic." Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and board members David Chastain and David Banks were maskless and remained so. Shame on them.

The district put out a statement saying, in part, “As you can clearly see, in the case of our Board meetings, the room has been intentionally spaced to allow for social distancing.” Oh, please. Not only is that condescending and insulting, it’s not the point. The point is that everybody on the Cobb school board is playing political games in the midst of a pandemic and, as usual, Cobb County schoolteachers are the pawns.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.

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Kathy Nguyen

Thank you my husband is an art teacher in Cobb, he was a friend of Patrick Key and I can't get the images of callousness out of mind. I had to tell him on Christmas evening that his friend died. How can people this uncaring be allowed to make decisions about my husband and his colleagues health and safety.

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