Anti-Defamation League: Cobb should not downplay antisemitism at Pope High School

The ADL says the incident must be called out and countered as a teachable moment

The decision by the Cobb County School District to use euphemisms in its public statement to describe the defacing of a boys’ bathroom at Pope High School with swastikas and the phrase “Hail Hitler” has not gone unnoticed.

Neither a statement by the district Friday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution nor a letter home to Pope parents mentioned antisemitism, opting for such terms as “students misbehave” and “hateful graffiti.”

The Anti-Defamation League sent Cobb a letter about its failure to characterize the act as antisemitic and offering its help in responding. The district has not responded, prompting Allison Padilla-Goodman, ADL Southern Division vice president, to release this statement:

As hate crimes surge in Georgia and across the country, it’s unacceptable that Cobb County Schools is failing to address or even name antisemitic incidents occurring in their own schools, and refusing to engage with ADL to respond effectively. ADL has long been a partner to Pope High School and Cobb County Schools, but the passage of their resolution banning Critical Race Theory could tie their hands in responding to and countering incidents of hate through educational initiatives for the school community.

This is a direct example of how these shortsighted, politically-driven policies will have a detrimental impact on our children — antisemitic incidents, and hate of all forms, must be called out and countered as teachable moments and through educating the school community to create equitable, inclusive environments where all students can learn and thrive.

Anti-CRT policies prevent adequate response to hate: Although Critical Race Theory (CRT) isn’t taught in K-12 schools, state governments and school districts across the country are passing resolutions to ban it from being taught. In places like Cobb County, a school district which teachers, students, parents, and community members say has a history of bias-motivated incidents, these policies are tying the hands of school officials and partner organizations to effectively respond to incidents of hate. This could have a serious and detrimental impact on children as schools are impeded from implementing anti-bias and other programming to foster an environment that allows all students to feel welcome and thrive, and which helps prevent incidents of hate from occurring in the future.

Report hate incidents to ADL: In absence of action from Cobb County Schools, ADL is encouraging students, parents, and school staff to reach out and report any hate incidents. Incidents can be reported online: ADL.org/ReportIncident. In addition, ADL offers a variety of resources to help combat hate, bias, bullying, and more.

Background: In June, the Cobb County School District passed a resolution banning CRT and The New York Times’ 1619 project from being taught in district schools. The resolution didn’t specify what CRT was. The Cobb County School District has also dropped ADL’s No Place For Hate initiative from district schools. No Place for Hate is a free educational initiative that helps create a welcoming school community committed to stopping all forms of hate, bias, and bullying. (See a Cobb counselor’s disappointment in this decision by the district.)

The district’s characterization also drew fire Monday from the Lawfare Project, a New York-based nonprofit legal think tank and litigation fund that focuses on matters of civil and human rights, discrimination, antisemitism, and counterterrorism. In a letter to the Pope High school principal, Lawfare Project senior counsel Gerard Filitti wrote:

A Cobb School spokeswoman is quoted as referring to this incident using dismissive language (“misbehave,” “disrespect,”) instead of properly addressing this as a discriminatory act targeting the Jewish community – understood, both colloquially and in law, as a hate crime.

This response is unacceptable. It minimizes the intergenerational trauma suffered by the Jewish community, disregards the fear instilled by symbols of white supremacy, and trivializes the criminality of the underlying act. Jew-hatred must be called out and addressed directly, not swept under the rug with references to “misbehavior.”

By failing to address the Jew-hatred underlying this act, your school’s response normalizes discrimination and fosters an atmosphere that is not just dismissive of, but openly hostile to, minority students.

It defies credulity that, in the current climate of social awareness and responsibility when it comes to other minority groups, your school can so easily ignore hate directed at the Jewish community.