Incident at Cobb School Horrifies Jewish Community

Incident at Cobb School Horrifies Jewish Community

An eighth-grade student at East Cobb Middle School reported that classmates were photographed wearing an armband with a swastika on it and demonstrating the Nazi salute.

The latest display of antisemitism in Cobb County schools has prompted a variety of reactions from the community.

According to Brad Epstein, his 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, an eighth-grade student at East Cobb Middle School on Terrell Mill Road, reported that classmates were photographed wearing an armband with a swastika on it and demonstrating the Nazi salute. The photographs were posted on social media and Epstein’s daughter took screen shots before they were taken down. Then she reported it to her teacher.

One of several students that portrayed neo-Nazi arm band and salute at East Cobb Middle School.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, Epstein said, the class had studied a book about the Holocaust. While Epstein said that the teacher and assistant principal, Nicole Sheppard-Floyd, responded appropriately, he was not satisfied with the response of the Cobb County School Board.

In a statement, the school board said, “Several students, after school, made a very poor decision to display hateful and Anti-Semitic imagery while recording themselves on social media. The students will be disciplined according to district policies, and we encourage parents to talk to their students about using social media responsibly.”

This latest incident follows one in which graffiti — including swastikas and “Hail Hitler” — was scrawled above urinals in school bathrooms in Pope and Lassiter High Schools in Cobb County during the Jewish High Holy Days last fall. The Cobb school district was strongly criticized for not addressing the antisemitic aspect of the graffiti, calling it merely “hate speech.” Pope principal Thomas Flugum didn’t mention the antisemitic significance of the graffiti at his school either.

In a comment posted on Twitter, the southern division of the Anti-Defamation League stated, “Antisemitic messages at Cobb County public schools persist with no clear path forward. We have a responsibility to targeted Jewish families and are still open to work with the schools. An anti-hate resolution without action is not enough to effect change.”

Epstein also complained that when he contacted Cobb County school board members, only one responded. In a follow-up email to the board, he wrote: “Your silence is deafening! Since I made you aware of this incident, only one board member had the courage to reach out to me. If this were racism in ANY other way, there would be a loud outcry. However, your silence in this matter implies that you ALL condone this type of behavior.”

Attendance at East Cobb Middle School’s Jewish Club was triple its normal number, with many non-Jewish students participating to show their solidarity.

The one school board member who responded to Epstein, Dr. Jaha Howard, thanked him “for bringing light to this disgusting act. I know the Superintendent and his operational team are aware. I am also eager to be a part of how our district can be more proactive in preventing antisemitism in our communities.”

Epstein told the AJT that “talk is one thing; action is another. Kids are kids, but educators should know better. They should protect our kids. These people are not fit to hold public office.”

He also challenged East Cobb Middle School to check their security cameras. “There may be 10 people involved, not just one or three kids,” he said.

According to Epstein, three students were suspended for five days following the incident. At press time, the Cobb County School District had not responded to questions confirming that information.

Epstein noted that one of the three students immediately recognized that he was wrong to take the photos. “He posted it and quickly took it down. And he apologized and said he was willing to speak to a rabbi.”

The Epsteins are active members of Chabad of Cobb. Rabbi Ephraim Silverman released a statement, acknowledging that “this is obviously extremely hurtful and painful for the Jewish community and really for all decent people living in our community. We have Holocaust survivors and the children of survivors in our community so you can imagine the emotions that these images evoke. There is no place for this kind of behavior in our society.”

He added, however, that “we do need to give the school the opportunity to address this and to take appropriate action. I am hoping that lessons from recent events at some of the other schools will help guide the school’s handling of this. I also feel that it is important that we do not allow these isolated acts of stupidity and hate to change the way we see our community and society. I have personally been working in many of the local schools for 20 years providing support for the schools’ Jewish clubs. And I will tell you that 99 percent are kind, tolerant and respectful. Let’s not allow a few juvenile idiots [to] change the way we view our neighbors.”

Indeed, Silverman told the AJT that a prescheduled meeting of the Jewish Club at East Cobb Middle School on Friday, Feb. 18, was very well attended, both by Jewish and non-Jewish students and the assistant principal, all of whom came to show their support. “There was triple the attendance,” he said. “They wanted to make a statement of solidarity.”

Congregation Kol Emeth Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, who reacted to the earlier antisemitic incidents in the Cobb County schools, called the latest incident “just another example of the schools not doing enough to educate our kids about history.” He called the school board more “reactive than proactive,” and said that they need to change their curriculum and programming “so this kind of stuff wouldn’t happen. Otherwise, we just have to get used to it.”

Sernovitz added, “our whole community needs to be outraged, not just the Jewish community.”

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