COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Parents and members of the Jewish community packed a Cobb County School Board meeting to see how the board would address anti-Semitism.
11Alive previously reported that two high schools were hit with anti-Semitic graffiti. 11Alive has since learned a Simpson Middle School bathroom was recently defaced with small swastikas as well.
During Thursday night's school board meeting, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said the district doesn’t tolerate hate and those responsible are facing disciplinary action.
One of the anti-Semitic vandalism acts happened at Pope High School. A similar instance of graffiti at Lassiter High School also concerned students and parents. The instances happened during the high Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
“School is supposed to be a place where I can go and learn and be in a safe environment, but I don’t feel that way anymore," said Hannah Levy, a Lassiter High School student.
“We’re here to begin a dialogue and what I hope is a constructive dialogue with the school board going forward," Rabbi Daniel Dorsch said earlier in the day at a school board work session. “The fact that incidents are taking place in our school systems, means there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Dorsch said the school board was working with the Jewish community to discuss an updated anti-hate curriculum and treat Jewish holidays with additional respect. More than 4,300 people signed a petition, echoing calls for the reinstatement of an adequate anti-hate curriculum.
The board plans to come up with a resolution soon, detailing how it felt about the acts of anti-Semitism.
“That resolution is ready. Yet, I of course want to collaborate with our board members before bringing anything forward and want to take the time to get it right," Chairman Randy Scamihorn said Thursday night.
Ragsdale said he can’t discuss the particulars of the discipline the students received because those students can still file for an appeal.
At the work session earlier during the day, Board member Dr. Jaha Howard said his hope was to work to prevent such instances before they happened.
“I think it’s important that we are very strong, not just in our words but in our actions, to make sure the acts – and not just the acts – but the psychology, motivation and dangerous ideology behind those acts is rooted out," Howard said. "We have to look at all the programs we have in place. What are we doing as leadership to make sure we’re demonstrating and modeling what it’s like to respect one another?"
The COVID-19 pandemic also lingered over the discussion among school board members during the work session. Parents sounded off on mask choice versus required masks in schools. This was the first chance parents could publicly address the school board about masks since the Cobb-Douglas Board of Public Health recommended that masks be worn in schools due to a severe turn in the pandemic.
The recommendation fell in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Pediatrics. However, the school board did not take any COVID-related actions during Thursday's board meeting. Masks remain optional, per the school district's superintendent.
Howard voiced his opposition to the school board meeting's agenda after he noted the board had not discussed COVID-19 matters. The school board's rules prohibit board members from giving direct responses during work sessions. The agenda would pass on a 4-3 vote.
Howard also placed a jar of more than 1,100 pennies on a table, signifying the lives lost in Cobb County due to COVID-19.
"I just hope we can value the lives, the family members, three of them educators in Cobb County, value them more than a penny," Howard said. “We have to ask ourselves the question are we doing everything we can to keep our kids safe? We have to respect the pandemic. We have to respect this virus. We don’t have to be fearful of it, but we must respect it.”
Thursday's statement from a Cobb County School District spokesperson about the anti-Semitic vandalism is below:
"Speaking for the Board Chair and Board, the District continues to condemn the recent disturbing social media trend involving hate speech, anti-Semitic references, and the abuse of school property. It continues to be unacceptable and distracting from our teachers’ and students’ ability to focus on teaching and learning. Our principals have and are engaging with students, teachers, parents, and community members about how to prevent the harmful and illegal behavior from happening. There is zero tolerance for actions that harm individual students, people groups or the school building, and all applicable District policies and laws will be applied. We encourage families to talk to their students about the impacts of inappropriate and dangerous trends circulating on social media. Parents, students, or staff members can report safety concerns to the District’s Tipline via call, text or email.”