COBB County, Ga. (CBS46) -- As the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 variant and low vaccination rates continue to be the driving force behind a fourth surge, calls for masks in the Cobb County School District grow louder.
On Monday, Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said more than half of the states 170 recent outbreaks are in K-12 schools. She added that the current number of outbreaks is the highest since the start of the pandemic.
“The schools are a site with COVID transmission going on and we’re working hard with the superintendents to try and address these issues in the school,” Toomey said.
On Friday, Cobb County reported more than 1,000 new positive cases. The district has recorded 2,797 cases since the start of the school year on August 2. The staggering numbers caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center which also claims to be inundated with calls from concerned parents.
“At this point, parents are really facing the impossible choice between keeping their kids home and risking truancy charges or missed instructional time or sending their kids to school where they might potentially have to deal with a very serious illness,” said Claire Sherburne, a staff attorney with the legal advocacy group.
The SPLC released a statement, pointing the finger at school leaders who they believe are not doing enough to keep students and staff safe. They want the district to implement a mask mandate.
“We really don’t see this as an over-the-top request,” Sherburne said. “Many neighboring school districts have mandated masks and it does seem like it’s making a difference when it comes to the spread in the student population.”
Kari Baumil has a kindergarten daughter in the school district. She said there is little to no COVID-19 mitigation measures in her child’s classroom. Baumil said she fears for safety of her child’s health every day she takes her to school.
“When we signed her up for in-person learning, numbers were looking better,” Baumil explained. “People were starting to get vaccinated, and it was looking encouraging and so we decided to put her in school. I just wish more people would just do the right thing. I pray a lot more than I used to.”
Attorneys with SPLC would not discuss any possible legal action they might consider if Cobb County Schools maintains its current position. A district spokesperson responded to the group’s letter saying that the district believes “families have the right to make decisions that work best for them.”
Full statement from Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center:
"We are dismayed to see the number of positive COVID-19 cases in schools continue to rise dramatically week by week. Cobb County’s exceedingly high transmission rates could have been avoided with better leadership. At this point, it can only be described as deliberate indifference on the part of Superintendent Ragsdale, Board Chair Scamihorn, and certain other elected school board members who refused to even discuss this health emergency at the most recent school board meeting.
Enough is enough.
The district’s total disregard for CDC recommendations and the lives of their students, families, and employees puts the entire Cobb County community at risk.
The SPLC has received numerous calls from families who are terrified for their children in Cobb County Schools, particularly families of children with disabilities and other medically vulnerable children. These parents face an impossible choice: send their children to school and risk their exposure to a life-threatening virus or keep them home and risk truancy charges and more missed instructional time without support.
Many of these families are disenrolling their children from Cobb County Schools because the risk is too great. Community members and nearly 250 local physicians are calling on Superintendent Ragsdale and certain members of the Board to act, but they are putting politics over the lives of children.
Cobb County Schools is not only failing to protect these students, but actively creating danger for them through its refusal to follow science and evidence-based practices.
We stand ready to advocate for Cobb County children and families if local elected government officials will not do so. But it is our hope that the district will do the right thing now and use the millions of dollars it received to protect these students and ensure a safe in-person learning experience for all.”
Full response from district spokesperson:
"In accordance with a recently issued administrative order by the GADPH, Cobb's updated Public Health Protocols are intended to balance the importance of in-person learning and the frequent changes associated with COVID-19, along with the concerns from our community. As our protocols indicate, CCSD strongly encourages everyone in our community to wear masks, but we also believe that our families have the right to make decisions that work best for them."