Cobb school board passes antisemitism, racism resolution over Black members’ objections

210923-Marietta-Claudia Rolam, wrapped in the Israeli flag,  protests outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after anti-semitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools. Rolam is a member of Temple Emanuel in Atlanta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
210923-Marietta-Claudia Rolam, wrapped in the Israeli flag, protests outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after anti-semitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools. Rolam is a member of Temple Emanuel in Atlanta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

The Cobb County Board of Education on Thursday passed a resolution against antisemitism and racism in a divided vote, over the objections of the two Black members present at the meeting.

Jaha Howard and Leroy Tre’ Hutchins attempted to add amendments to the resolution at the afternoon work session but the other four board members, who are white, overruled them.

ExploreCobb students accused of antisemitic graffiti to face disciplinary charges

“I know you and members of the community worked on this for over a month but the rest of us got this two and a half days ago,” Howard told the board chairman, Randy Scamihorn. “That’s not any time to digest and put changes into something this important.”

The resolution comes a month after two Cobb high school bathrooms were vandalized with swastikas and antisemitic hate speech, and a year after the school board’s efforts to pass a resolution denouncing racism fell apart amid persistent disagreement.

At Thursday’s meeting, Howard asked to add a line to the resolution reading, “The Cobb County school district and board of education humbly regret the current school names that honor Confederate military leaders and will move with all deliberate speed to rename them in an appropriate way that reflects the goal of inclusion.”

Only he and Hutchins voted in favor of that amendment, while the other four members — Scamihorn, David Banks, David Chastain and Brad Wheeler — rejected it.

Hutchins said the board vowed last month to work on an antisemitism resolution in the wake of the vandalism, but nothing was said about a renewed attempt at a resolution denouncing racism.

ExploreMore stories about metro Atlanta schools

While the board was voting Thursday on the resolution, Hutchins asked to introduce another amendment for consideration, but the resolution passed before he could make the suggestion. He later said he would have proposed to remove mentions of racism.

“To add something else to it and not give it what it needed, it just wasn’t good,” Hutchins said. “It wasn’t proper.”

Scamihorn said all board members had an equal opportunity to work with community members on the resolution.

“The community helped put this together,” he said.

The one-page resolution includes the statement, “The Board wishes to reaffirm its continued commitment to take proactive steps to address antisemitism, racism and all other forms of hate in Cobb County School District.”

Although the resolution refers to the antisemitic vandalism, Howard said it does not acknowledge other recent challenges the school district has faced with racial issues.

“We just kind of throw it in as a catch all,” he said.

Minutes after the vote, Jennifer Mosbacher, a member of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta whose child attends one of the vandalized schools, emailed the school board in anger.

“You have gone against all of the principles of inclusion and diversity by excluding the voices of the African American board members,” she said in the email. “Please don’t think that the Jewish community will praise this effort. We are not fooled.”

Her rabbi, Larry Sernovitz, worked with Scamihorn on the resolution and said he liked the wording about antisemitism, but he echoed Howard and Hutchins’ concerns.

“We’re happy the resolution passed, but not in the way it did,” Sernovitz said. “If you’re going to throw in racism then talk about racism. Talk about Wheeler High School,” he added, referencing the campus named for Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general.

Hershel Greenblat, a Holocaust survivor, asked the school board to reinstate the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” curriculum, which the district discontinued after last school year.

“I am here to bear witness to a time in history which began with so many small acts of biased attitudes,“ Greenblat said. “I hope this board will go beyond words and take action.”