ATLANTA – The Cobb County School District’s failure to implement and enforce recommended safety protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in its schools unlawfully denies students with disabilities access to a safe, in-person learning environment, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the school district today on behalf of four Cobb County students and their parents.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia’s Atlanta Division, describes how students with disabilities and medical conditions are being harmed by the school district’s lack of COVID-19 protocols. The school district blatantly ignored the rights of students with disabilities to safe accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which prohibits government entities from denying individuals with disabilities equal access to public benefits and services.
The students and their parents are seeking an emergency court order requiring the Cobb County School District to immediately begin implementing CDC guidelines for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools so that students can access safe, in-person education opportunities. The student plaintiffs have medical conditions that make them more susceptible to severe illnesses if they were to contract COVID-19, including Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, obstructed breathing and severe asthma, and a compromised immune system resulting from childhood leukemia.
Between March 22 and May 2, 2021, parents were required to sign a commitment form for in-person or virtual learning during the 2021-22 school year. In June, as the number of COVID-19 cases surged in Cobb County and surrounding areas, the district, led by Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and four school board members, Randy Scamihorn, David Chastain, David Banks, and Brad Wheeler, who form a politically and race driven majority voting bloc, decided to end mask requirements. They also relaxed the other COVID-19 safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for K-12 settings. This left many families, including the plaintiffs, forced to choose between their children’s health or their education.
“Students with disabilities that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 should not have to lose educational opportunities because of the district’s dangerous and irresponsible decision to stop following CDC guidelines that would protect all students,” said Claire Sherburne, SPLC staff attorney. “Just like any other child, our clients have a right to attend school with their peers in a safe learning environment and should not be deprived of that right because of their disabilities.”
COVID-19 and variants of the virus have led to more than 40 million cases and nearly 700,000 deaths in the United States. According to the Georgia Tech Event Risk Assessment Tool, there is a 41% chance of someone being infected with COVID-19 in a group of 25 people in Cobb County, the typical size of a Cobb County K-12 classroom. For a group of 100 in Cobb County, the typical size gathered in a K-12 cafeteria for lunch, the risk is 88%.