Cobb schools already gave UV light company $750K+ before cutting ties, investigation finds

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — The Cobb County School District is parting ways with the company that uses ultraviolet lights to sanitize the schools and is asking for its money back.

Channel 2 Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose has investigated the effectiveness and the potential dangers of using UV lights to kill coronavirus in classrooms over the last couple of months.

The district announced Wednesday it was cutting ties with ProTek Life after their lights malfunctioned at Argyle Elementary School 10 days ago.

Jose has obtained new documents that reveal that the district already made two big payments to ProTek Life before cutting ties with them.

A staff member gave Jose a picture of the UV lights on the day they malfunctioned at Argyle Elementary during school hours.

“This was kind of like making our kids a guinea pig for this technology,” parent Ashley Marquardt said, expressing her concerns at a school board meeting last month.

On Wednesday, the district revealed that “timing hardware and motion detectors did not work” at Argyle. The lights are supposed to run overnight when no one is in the building.

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Through an open records request, Jose learned the district paid ProTek Life $196,800 on Oct. 8. On Feb. 11, there was a second payment of $571,834. That’s a total of $768,634.

In the district’s “request for proposal,” it shows the contract was worth an estimated $6 million.

“I’m happy to know that we’re finally putting the brakes on this dumpster fire,” said Cobb County board of education member Dr. Jaha Howard.

Howard is one of two school board members who voted “no” to a measure of up to $12 million for COVID-19 safety products including the UV lights.

Cobb County Schools said ProTek Life was required to have a motion detector to ensure it would not activate if someone walked into a room. Now, the district wants a refund.

Jessica Bergeron is a mother and a founding member of “Watching the Funds Cobb.”

“I commend the district for taking this step, but I also have to ask the question, how did we get here?” Bergeron said.

Jose dug deeper into the process.

Documents show Cobb County opened the bidding for a UV light sanitizing system for two and a half weeks last November.

The minimum specifications of the district’s request prompted competing companies to question safety. One vendor said, “We have concerns about installing a toxic system around kids.”

“I would be interested to know how these lights were selected. What was the process they went through? I mean there’s no science that shows that this was a safe decision for schools,” Bergeron said.

Jose learned on Thursday that nearly a dozen Cobb County elementary schools had the UV lights installed.

On top of a refund, the district wants ProTek to remove the lights.