Muslim parents: Cobb schools’ message on Israel-Hamas war fueled fear

A group of Muslim parents criticized a message sent by the Cobb County School District about the Israel-Hamas war that they said led to bullying and harassment for their families. (Cassidy Alexander /

Credit: Cassidy Alexander

Credit: Cassidy Alexander

A group of Muslim parents criticized a message sent by the Cobb County School District about the Israel-Hamas war that they said led to bullying and harassment for their families. (Cassidy Alexander /

A group of Muslim parents said a message from the Cobb County School District spread misinformation and exposed their children and families to bullying and harassment in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel.

The school district sent a message to families on the morning of Oct. 13 assuring them that they are working with law enforcement to ensure student safety.

“We are aware of an international threat, not directly related to our schools, that has been issued by Hamas for Friday, Oct. 13,” the message stated. “While there is no reason to believe this threat has anything to do with our schools, parents can expect both law enforcement and school staff to take every step to keep your children safe.”

On Friday, a former Hamas chief called for Muslims around the world to protest in support of Palestinians. Some interpreted his comments as a threat of violence and officials in some cities stepped up security as the topic trended on social media.

Eight speakers at Thursday’s school board meeting said Cobb’s message was “fear-mongering” and exaggerated any potential danger to students.

“(The message) was not only irresponsible since it wasn’t substantiated with any kind of threat to Cobb County, but it was also sensationalized, fear-mongering and very distressing,” Nazia Khanzada, a mother of a Cobb fifth grader, told school board members and Superintendent Chris Ragsdale at a meeting Thursday. The message “has directly resulted in hate, harassment and bullying threats directed toward Cobb Muslim and Arab students and their families, including myself.”

Hamas launched a deadly attack on Oct. 7 and took civilian hostages. Israel’s military responded with airstrikes in Gaza. The Gaza Health Ministry said 3,785 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,500 others have been wounded, according to The Associated Press. More people in Gaza are believed to be buried under rubble. The AP reports that more than 1,400 Israelis have been killed, and about 200 others, including children, were captured by Hamas and taken into Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.

Several other metro Atlanta school districts issued statements on Oct. 13. School systems in Fulton and DeKalb counties published messages that encouraged unity and explained that there were no current threats to the school systems. Atlanta Public Schools drew backlash from some Jewish parents who were “disappointed and insulted” by its statement on Oct. 13, which did not explicitly decry antisemitism and drew a comparison between the current conflict and the Civil Rights Movement.

“We are sorry to hear when any of our students or parents are affected by global events,” a Cobb County School District spokesperson said in an emailed statement Thursday. “Anytime there are student or staff safety concerns, the District will take every step to keep children safe, including communicating.”

During his remarks on Thursday evening, Ragsdale reiterated that student safety is a top priority and condemned harassment.

“Let me be very clear: Bullying and hate of any type will not be tolerated in the Cobb County School District,” he said. He also added that he learned of some students and staff who have been personally affected by the war, and that district leaders are especially keeping the families of American and Israeli hostages in their thoughts and prayers.

The parents who addressed the Cobb school board on Thursday said they and others were afraid to send their children to school after the message, for fear that they would mistakenly be equated to Hamas. They referenced social media groups for parents in Cobb where people made misinformed or racist comments.

One mom said her child has been called a terrorist in the past, and is now being asked about his opinions on Hamas, a militant group. They also pointed to the Palestinian 6-year-old who police say was killed near Chicago by a landlord who stabbed him 26 times and his mother, which is being investigated as a hate crime.

“You’re playing into Islamophobic propaganda,” Sarah Quraishi, a Cobb mother of three, said Thursday. “I would like to remind you of your obligations to ensure a safe school environment for all students and to ensure that no student faces bullying, discrimination or harassment ... Your PR stunt caused you to lose credibility and respect in many of our eyes.”