Jeff Amy

Accreditor to investigate Cobb schools over board complaints

April 23, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s second-largest school district is being investigated by an accrediting body after the school board’s minority members, all Democrats, complained that their white Republican colleagues are improperly ignoring them.

The Cobb County school district announced Thursday that Cognia, its accreditor, will conduct an unscheduled review after three board members wrote to Cognia in January.

Those members — Charisse Davis, Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre” Hutchins — said that after “numerous points of conflict,” they wanted to schedule a board discussion of early reading intervention, teacher and employee safety and support during the coronavirus pandemic and bringing in an outsider to help train the school board to deal with disagreements. However, other board members never responded and the items were never scheduled on a board agenda.

The three members who complained are all African American Democrats, while the remaining four board members are white Republicans. The minority members have dissented against a number of decisions, including the board’s vote in March to extend Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s contract to run the 107,000-student district for three more years.

The board’s majority also voted last year to require a majority vote to place an item on the agenda, and voted 4-3 to abolish a committee that was supposed to examine whether the district should rename schools that are named after people who served in the Confederacy or may have been associated with slaveholding.

Finally, there’s been continuing tension about how Cobb has handled the pandemic. The board majority has pushed to provide in-person classes, despite concerns that it placed teachers and staff in danger, especially after three teachers died from COVID-19 related complications. It’s unclear where they caught the virus.

The board majority has defended its actions as being in the best interests of everyone.

“The common-sense approach to the challenges we face, along with consistently making decisions that prioritize our students and staff, makes our entire county better,” Board Chair Randy Scamihorn said in February when board members extended Ragsdale’s contract.

Accreditation is meant as a seal of approval that a district is providing an adequate education. School districts usually undergo periodic reviews. Cobb wasn’t scheduled for another accreditation review until 2024.

Ragsdale sent a letter to Cognia last month denying that the district might be violating three accrediting standards. Ragsdale said the district provides effective training to board members, provides equitable opportunities to students and uses its resources in a way meant to meet identified needs and improve student performance.

“We have continued to provide superior educational opportunities that make ours a highly sought-after school district of excellence where all students have the tools to succeed,” Ragsdale wrote in the March 26 letter. “Local boards of education often struggle during the best of times, and our board is no different. Understandably, those struggles may be heightened under the extreme worldwide pandemic circumstances we currently find ourselves.”