COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A group of parents have filed suit against Cobb County Schools, alleging the district is violating their children's disability rights through insufficient COVID protocols.
The federal lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, argues the children are being discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Because of their disabilities, (the children) are more susceptible to COVID-19 and its worst complications, including severe illness and death," the suit states. "The District’s failure to execute multilayered COVID-19 spread mitigation strategies in its schools presents an immediate threat to (the children) and prevents them from attending school in-person."
The central issue in the county is masks. Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale has resisted implementing a blanket mask mandate in the district, a policy that has been endorsed by the county's Board of Health as part of CDC recommendations.
The superintendent has cited research that he's said he believes doesn't definitively show a benefit to mask mandate policies in schools.
"We need to understand what is happening, why it is happening, and what will happen next. We need to understand our data and what it means. I felt it was time to get an accurate depiction of our data. When we are not presented with a forward-looking process, we will use our own data-driven process," Ragsdale said last month.
The study, conducted by the CDC in Georgia between November and December last year, found a substantial benefit to teacher masking but reported that "the 21% lower incidence in schools that required mask use among students was not statistically significant compared with schools where mask use was optional."
But the study's authors said that might result "from differences in mask-wearing behavior among students in schools with optional requirements."
"Because universal and correct use of masks can reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission and is a relatively low-cost and easily implemented strategy, findings in this report suggest universal and correct mask use is an important COVID-19 prevention strategy in schools as part of a multicomponent approach," the study said.
Subsequent CDC research released last month also suggested that communities where schools had mask mandates experienced smaller COVID surges that coincided with the start of the school year than communities where no mask mandates were in place.
Ragsdale has support from the Cobb School Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn, who said last month that he "appreciate(s) that the superintendent compiled some of the COVID-19 data which separates fact from narrative."
The lawsuit argues: "Rather than using the known and available tools to mitigate the threat of COVID-19 and protect (the children’s) access to school services, programs, and activities, the District has acted with deliberate indifference to (the children’s) rights to inclusion, health, and education."
11Alive has reached out to Cobb County Schools for a response to the lawsuit, but so far has not heard back.