Did Cobb play down threat at Harrison High?  How much information should parents receive? 

Tight-lipped responses are norm in school districts, but parents are using social media to fill in blanks

Cobb County Schools took an extraordinary action this week – it dismissed a substitute teacher during the school day and on the spot.

From parent accounts, two Awtrey Middle School students found a note the substitute language arts teacher -- who’s been at the school since the start of the year -- wrote about her class. 

According to a social media account by the parent of one of the kids, the note categorized students as devils and angels with a racial component. Students now have a new substitute; their regular class teacher returns from maternity leave after the fall break.

In a statement about the teacher’s firing to  the AJC, Cobb school district spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the system “wants to make sure it is clear” that the note didn’t exclusively place black students in one column and white students in the other. 

“The district doesn’t tolerate any adult we employ making comments which are disrespectful in any way,” she said. 

This has been quite a week for Cobb parents, including those with teens at Harrison High School.

Some Harrison parents said they believe the district underplayed a threat made a week ago on SnapChat by a former student. Parents sent me screenshots of the SnapChat comment, which read: “don’t go to school tomorrow, if u know u know.”

When I reached out last week to Cobb Schools, Kiel said: “We are aware of an unfounded rumor that is being spread online. The Cobb County School District Police have investigated and found the rumor to be untrue. For the sake of being specific, at no time was there a threat to our campus and Harrison High School was not on lockdown at any time.”

But when parents learned there was an arrest on Friday, they questioned why the district described the rumor as “untrue.” 

The threat may have been judged empty by police and the district, but it was not untrue, said parents. The former student is now charged with one count of disruption of public schools, which is a misdemeanor. 

The threat, according to the police warrant, frightened students into staying home on Friday. “It has disrupted instruction in all classrooms and caused many students to miss valuable classroom time,” the arresting officer wrote. “When officers made contact with accused, he stated that he wanted to 'piss off' his former classmates and scare them.”

One student said more than 1,000 of his classmates were not in school.

My sense from dealing with Cobb Schools is that its working premise is to limit information on incidents of this nature, but that can be problematic. Parents become frustrated and feel they’re being denied critical information that could affect their child’s safety.

Tight-lipped responses are often the norm in school districts, but parents are using social media to fill in blanks. Many Cobb parents are discussing what happened at Awtrey and Harrison on Facebook, sharing information that the district likely knows but did not release for either legal or public relations reasons.

As an upset Cobb mother pointed out to me, Andrew Pollack, the father of student Meadow Pollack, one of the 17 people killed on at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, says in a new book that the school district did not take seriously the threat posed by former Parkland student Nikolas Cruz. Pollack maintains there were dozens of red flags in Cruz’s life that school and health officials ignored or played down before the 2018 shooting.

In a recent interview with the Miami Herald, Pollack said: “I want to be the last father who could say, ‘I didn’t know what was going on in the schools.’”

What are your thoughts on how Cobb handles these sorts of incidents? What should district leaders have done in the Harrison High case?  I did talk to a Cobb parent who said, “I trust the school and principal to decide what the community needs to know. They have to prevent unnecessary panic.”

Do you agree? 

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
X