Cobb students accused of antisemitic graffiti to face disciplinary charges

Karen Colbert holds a hand-painted poster while protesting outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting on Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools.  Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Karen Colbert holds a hand-painted poster while protesting outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting on Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

The Cobb County School District recently brought disciplinary charges against students believed responsible for antisemitic graffiti in bathrooms at two high schools, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said at Thursday’s board of education meeting.

“I want to be very clear: the district does not and will not tolerate hate in any form,” he said. “The district refuses to dismiss the incident as some sort of prank.”

The case is going through the disciplinary tribunal process required by state law, Ragsdale said. He said he wouldn’t elaborate because the recommended consequences are dire enough that they could be appealed to the school board.

Swastikas and the words “Hail Hitler” or “Heil Hitler” were found this month in bathrooms at Pope and Lassiter High Schools. The acts occurred during the Jewish High Holidays, the most important time of year in Judaism.

Community members previously criticized the district for not mentioning antisemitism by name in statements addressing the incidents.

Senior Rabbi Larry Sernovitz of Temple Kol Emeth spoke privately with Ragsdale after his Thursday statement and later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he thought “positive growth” was taking place.

“We need to keep our foot on the pedal until we see the systemic changes we’re looking for,” Sernovitz said. “All it takes is one student who hates to solve a problem.”

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Karen Melnick and her husband Larry Melnick protest outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools. Karen Melnick is a retired Cobb teacher and is a member of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

 Karen Melnick and her husband Larry Melnick protest outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools. Karen Melnick is a retired Cobb teacher and is a member of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta.  Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Combined ShapeCaption
Karen Melnick and her husband Larry Melnick protest outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic vandalism was discovered at two Cobb County High Schools. Karen Melnick is a retired Cobb teacher and is a member of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

More than 50 protesters stood quietly outside school district headquarters Thursday evening in Marietta. Some were advocating for the district to impose a mask mandate, while others wore white shirts and carried signs with messages against hate.

Many criticized the school district for dropping the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” curriculum in the spring, amid anxiety over diversity initiatives stemming from a backlash against critical race theory.

“The school district does not have a policy where they’re teaching the causes of hatred,” said Scott Colbert, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El in Sandy Springs.

His wife, Karen Colbert, carried a sign that said “Antisemitism=Racism” with a drawing of Leo Frank, a Jewish man lynched in 1915 in Marietta. The Colberts and others referenced the killing of Frank as an example of what can happen when discrimination is met with silence.

A statement from a school district spokeswoman Thursday did not address questions about the curriculum.

“A recent disturbing social media trend involving hate speech is unacceptable and distracting from our teachers’ and students’ ability to focus on teaching and learning,” the district said last week through a spokeswoman. “Our principals are engaging with students, teachers, parents, and community members about how to prevent the harmful and illegal behavior from happening.”

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The vandalism might have stemmed from a social media dare, school district officials said.

In a letter to parents last week, Principal Chris Richie of Lassiter High called the symbols and language antisemitic and said, “I do think it is important to first let parents know what occurred, to name it, and to let our students know that we condemn it.”

Administrators visited classes “to reiterate our expectations for student behavior,” Richie said in the letter.

Jon Ossoff, the state’s first Jewish senator, last week addressed the vandalism at Pope.

“It must inflame in us the same passion for the survival of our people that burned in the hearts of the generation” that came out of the Holocaust, said Ossoff, a Democrat, at Temple Emanu-El on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

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Claudia Rolam, wrapped in the Israeli flag, protests outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic 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

Claudia Rolam, wrapped in the Israeli flag,  protests outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic 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

Combined ShapeCaption
Claudia Rolam, wrapped in the Israeli flag, protests outside of the Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021, after antisemitic 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

Credit: Ben Gray