New President, No More COVID-19 Contact Tracing After Tense Cobb School Board Meeting
By Rebecca Gaunt
In another tense Cobb County Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announced that the district would no longer conduct contact tracing for COVID-19, except under special undefined circumstances.
Ragsdale cited a letter received earlier today from Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Department of Health commissioner Dr Kathleen Toomey as the reason.
The letter says, “Reporting positive cases to DPH is still required under reportable disease laws. However, we do know that contact tracing has become more difficult as cases have increased in schools and throughout the community. Although contact tracing is a ‘best practice’, especially for those at high risk, we understand that this may not always be possible in all cases and therefore may be considered an optional service in schools for the moment. “
Ragsdale also said educators and staff can return to work after being identified as close contact, as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask during the quarantine period. Updated district protocols are here.
The board of directors approved David Chastain as the new chairman with a 4-3 vote. He replaces Randy Scamihorn, who was criticized during his tenure for comments on COVID-19 and immigrants, as well as the decision to hire the law firm Taylor English as redistribution consultants.
Board member Jaha Howard appointed Tre ‘Hutchins as chairman and read a list of the reasons for the appointment, most of which were criticisms of contentious issues related to the partisan board split.
“Tre ‘thinks that our schools should not be named after Confederate generals. Tre ‘thinks it is wrong to sympathize with the January 6 insurgents. Tre ‘would review an accreditation report before make a contract on steam through, not after. Tre ‘thinks we shouldn’t allow local newspapers to have an accreditation report until the Board of Education does, “Howard said.
“I appreciate that Mr. Hutchins and I believe in the same things,” Scamihorn replied.
Charisse Davis, who attended the meeting by telephone, spoke in favor of the appointment of Hutchins.
“I have already spent a year as President of Mr. Chastain. I don’t think that’s the leadership we need, ”she said.
After Chastain’s appointment, counsel for the council recommended that Scamihorn pass the hammer so Chastain could lead the rest of the meeting. Scamihorn declined and continued to lead.
The board also chose controversial member David Banks as vice-president for the third consecutive year. Banks has come under fire for racist emails and for using his official and personal email accounts to send COVID-19 disinformation to parents.
Howard strongly objected to Banks keeping in this role, which led to a loaded exchange with Scamihorn, a common occurrence over the past year.
“Mr. Banks also had several concerning behavioral issues that were discussed behind the scenes and, for whatever reason, he went on to be named president,” Howard said.
Scamihorn responded, referring to Howard as Dr Hutchins, which Howard corrected.
“I get it, Doctor Howard,” Scamihorn said. “Don’t correct me.”
Scamihorn disagreed with Howard’s comments, calling them “inappropriate” and calling for Howard’s microphone to be muted when he continued to speak.
“Do you feel powerful doing this?” Howard asked.
“If you want to discuss issues with other members, you can do so privately. You criticize in private; praise in public, ”said Scamihorn.
“It would be nice if you returned a phone call,” Howard replied.
Heather Tolley-Bauer of the Watch Group Monitor funds – Cobb told The Courier, “Their division has cost us millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses, decreasing student enrollments and increasing the number of vacancies. If this board cared about the concerns of its stakeholders, they would have voted differently for board chair or vice chair. It is clear where their priorities lie.
Kemp and Toomey’s letter also offers an expanded Covid-19 testing program through GaDPH at no cost to the district. Although the state’s testing program has been available since last fall, the Cobb County School District has not implemented any on-site testing despite sending a survey in august in which 79.25% of those surveyed indicated that they supported the idea.
Watch the funds – Cobb has been very critical of the district’s COVID-19 response and the use of $ 160.2 million of US bailout funds. Member Stacy Efrat filed an open case request which found the district was using MERV-8 filters for ventilation, although MERV-13 is the recommendation for COVID-19. Rather than upgrading the system, much of the money was earmarked for the Cobb Teaching and Learning System (CTLS), programs aimed at tackling learning loss and staffing.
The group also criticized Ragsdale’s decision to spend $ 12 million in 2020 on UV lamps that ultimately malfunctioned and hand rinse stations. The Iggy hand rinse stations, still in the process of being installed, use aqueous ozone, which the manufacturer claims neutralizes viruses and bacteria.
However, staff and students report that many stations are not operational. Staff also complained that regular soap and sanitizer was not readily available. Parents bought air purifiers for classrooms using their own money or through donations to school foundations.
Tolley-Bauer pointed out that UV lamps and hand rinse stations were purchased when surface cleaning was considered more effective for COVID-19 mitigation. She does not understand why the district has not looked into stopping the airborne transmission.
“Now, at over $ 14,000 per unit, some are installed and are not even on shift. Additionally, we understand that there is a process to properly use these receptors so that they are useful. And has anyone asked teachers or administrators if they can effectively use these devices with young children? $ 12 million on that and the defunct UV lamps would have bought a lot of soap, ”Tolley-Bauer said.
Watch the full meeting here.
Rebecca Gaunt received a journalism degree from the University of Georgia and a Masters of Education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, her son, two cats and a dog. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, City of Kennesaw staff members deemed essential will receive a one-time additional payment for their service during the COVID-19 health crisis and travel.