Cobb Democrats want answers after schools’ message about ‘leftist’ critics

Some Democrats in Cobb County are considering their next steps after parents received a message via email lambasting “leftist political activists” through the school district’s messaging platform.

Democrats were quick to condemn the message sent Friday, which was signed by the attorneys representing Cobb schools in a soon-to-be-settled lawsuit over a map outlining the school board’s redrawn election boundaries. Some people called for a retraction. Reached by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for comment Monday, a Cobb school district spokesperson referred to another statement published on the district’s website last week.

“We are focused on students and schools while lawyers focus on the courtroom,” the spokesperson stated via email. “We do appreciate our attorneys keeping our community updated on this important legal case.”

A group of voting rights organizations sued the Cobb County Board of Elections last year over the map, arguing that they intentionally discriminated against people of color by “packing” them into a small number of voting districts to dilute their voting power.

The school district joined the case to defend its map. But in July, a federal judge cleared the school district of responsibility, removed it from the case and advanced the suit against the elections board as the department responsible for implementing the map. The elections board is settling the case and agreeing to the maps being redrawn — which prompted the school district and its attorneys to issue statements last week.

Still, the district expressed disappointment in the settlement in a previous statement, and emphasized that “keeping politics out of Cobb’s schools” is one of its goals.

But Democrats felt that Friday’s message from the Freeman Mathis & Gary law firm did the opposite.

“It’s clearly a call to action to get people upset and riled up over something that has nothing to do with student education,” said Cobb County Democratic Committee Chair Erick Allen. “It’s very disturbing, and it can’t happen again.”

Allen considered filing an ethics complaint about the email, but said he wasn’t sure who outside of the Republican-led school board could hold Superintendent Chris Ragsdale accountable. He also said he’s exploring the possibility that Ragsdale’s contract — which was amended two years ago to allow Ragsdale to end his contract early and collect severance pay if the board is found to have embarrassed or harassed him — isn’t legal.

“How is it that somebody can negotiate a contract (that would) make it impossible to hold him accountable?” Allen said Monday.

School board member Leroy “Tre’” Hutchins, a Democrat, told the AJC he wasn’t sure whether the superintendent or the Republican board majority directed the message to go out. Hutchins said he planned to ask who directed the message be sent. Board Chair Brad Wheeler, a Republican, suggested the district was following the advice of its attorneys. The district spokesperson did not respond to a question about who authorized the message.

It’s the second time in the last week that Cobb has faced criticism about its messaging. The district sent a message to all families earlier this month, in which it referenced an “international threat, not directly related to our schools, that has been issued by Hamas.” A group of Muslim parents complained to the school board last week that the Oct. 13 message incited fear and spread misinformation that led to the harassment and bullying of Muslim students and families. After the parents addressed the board, Ragsdale said the district will always take steps to keep students safe and was sorry to hear of families affected by global events.

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