Either Cobb County schools have among the best behaved students around, or they are fudging statistics on bullying.
That’s the contention of lawyers representing a boy they say was falsely accused of fighting and charged with felonies.
The teen-aged son of Jorge Santa was the victim of bullying, they say, adding that the school district painted him as an equal party to a fight. They claim this is not an isolated incident, pointing to state statistics that show reports of bullying in Cobb are below the state average and far below nearby districts.
They also say they have anecdotal evidence that Cobb administrators coerced kids who were defending themselves from bullies into false admissions of guilt. When kids and parents push back, as happened with Santa, a police officer in Atlanta, then the district sends cases to prosecutors, as a strong-arm tactic, the lawyers allege.
“Cobb County uses the district attorney’s office as its enforcement arm,” said one of Santa’s lawyers, Mitch Skandalakis. “And it’s simply wrong.”
Santa said he met with the school principal after his son told him he was assaulted by a boy at school. He has two sons, and is used to getting both sides of the story when they argue. He said the principal confirmed his son’s account — he defended himself against another boy — but said they were both in the wrong because fighting is not allowed.
Santa knew the law was on the side of his son, who was 14 at the time. A 2017 Georgia Supreme Court decision says it is not illegal to fight as long as the blows are landed in self-defense. The Supreme Court, in deciding a case involving Henry County Schools, said this state law also applies in schools.
Santa said he believes the principal retaliated by going to the district attorney and that he’s pushing the matter to force a change of practices.
“Where are we going to be as a society if we allow this to continue,” he asked. Two moms accompanied him to a lawyer’s office to describe incidents of bullying of their children that they say were not taken seriously by Cobb administrators.
Skandalakis and lawyer Rob Madayag say the evidence that Cobb was in the wrong includes the recent dismissal of aggravated assault and battery charges against Santa’s son. They say the court case revealed anecdotal evidence that Cobb downplays claims of bullying, and they point to state statistics that show relatively few incidents of bullying.
“It could be a miracle that every good kid winds up in Cobb County, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the situation,” Madayag said.
A spokeswoman for Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds confirmed that the charges were dropped, but had no comment regarding Skandalakis’ claim of “malicious prosecution.” Kim Isaza wrote in an email that the district attorney’s office could not comment further on a juvenile court case.
A written statement from the Cobb County School District said: “The Cobb County School District takes every report of bullying seriously, and we strictly adhere to state and district guidelines concerning these issues. We offer a wide range of safety, social, and emotional supports designed to make our schools a safe space for all students, and the data shows that it’s working.”
The statement included a link to a post on the district website that says fighting is down 12 percent and bullying is down 21 percent from 2016 to 2018. Loss of instructional time for discipline is also down, by 17 percent.
Yet Santa’s lawyers say the declining incidence of bullying supports their contention that something is wrong. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of school district bullying reports to the Georgia Department of Education show Cobb with an unusually low rate of bullying.
Cobb reported roughly 75 incidents of bullying per 100,000 students in the 2017-18 school year. Cobb’s rate falls in the lowest third of all school districts in the state. Gwinnett County schools’ rate was two-thirds higher, and the DeKalb schools’ rate was eight times as high.
Rates of reported bullying incidents per 100,000 students in school year 2017-18
Atlanta Public Schools: 580