Jewish groups ask Cobb school board to condemn anti-Semitism

Cobb school board chairman Randy Scamihorn

As we reported over the weekend, the chairman of the Cobb Board of Education appeared at a Yom Kippur service in East Cobb last week following two anti-Semitic incidents at nearby high schools.

When East Cobb News spoke with Randy Scamihorn, who was invited to the high holy day service at Temple Kol Emeth by Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, we asked if he was considering asking the school board to issue a statement about the discoveries of swastikas and “Heil Hitler” scrawlings at Pope and Lassiter high schools.

Leadership teams at the individual schools are conducting investigations.

Scamihorn condemned the attacks, saying those who committed them are “woefully ignorant of what the swastika means.”

As chairman he could bring an item to Thursday’s school board meeting agendas unilaterally, but said in our interview Friday that “at this time, I’m going to let the investigations play out.”

Other board members need the vote of a majority of the board to add agenda items, following a late 2020 policy change.

Board members also are prohibited from offering public comments during their meetings on any subject. A policy change was made in 2019 that’s part of ongoing conflict among the seven-member body, typically along partisan lines.

On Sunday, Kol Emeth and other Jewish organizations in metro Atlanta launched an online petition that’s already surpassed 1,700 signatures out of a targeted 2,500:

“We are asking the Cobb County School Board and its associated schools to recognize and condemn all forms of antisemitism that occur on campus and to allow school principals the authority to condemn these acts and offer programming to proactively educate the student body and community about antisemitism and to prevent further occurrences.”

The groups include the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other metro Atlanta synagogues.

Sernovitz and other Jewish leaders have been critical of the Cobb school district’s response, saying a message by Pope principal Thomas Flugum didn’t specify that they were anti-Semitic incidents.

The Cobb school district issued a response that didn’t make a reference to anti-Semitism but only to “hate speech” and urged “families to talk to their students about the impacts of inappropriate and dangerous trends circulating on social media.”

In a statement issued Monday, Lauren Menis, a co-founder of the Atlanta Alliance Against Anti-Semitism said the following:

“In refusing to call out the hate by name, as antisemitism, the Cobb County School Board is sending a clear message that these acts of hate are not significant. This is a teachable moment, and we need to seize it. By not naming it and not allowing anti-hate educational programming to address this in their schools, the schools have denied a valuable opportunity to help students learn from these events. Downplaying hate is unacceptable. We will hold Cobb County’s school board accountable. Their silence is unacceptable.” 

The Cobb school board is delaying its September meetings—a work session at 2:30 p.m. and a business meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday—by a week in observance of Yom Kippur.

That schedule change was announced last Monday, after the Pope incident. On Wednesday, Lassiter school officials announced a similar incident had taken place.

Also on Monday, the Democratic House Leadership Caucus of the Georgia legislature issued a statement condemning the Pope and Lassiter incidents, including David Wilkerson and Erica Thomas of South Cobb.

Democrat Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. senator, also condemned the Cobb incidents in a Yom Kippur appearance at a Sandy Springs synagogue.

The Pope PTSA organization is planning a Nov. 20 event in response to the anti-Semitic incident there that will include a campus cleanup project as well as assemblies involving faith leaders from local Jewish, Catholic and Episcopalian congregations.

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