COBB COUNTY, Ga. — The attorney for a Cobb County high school student suspended after officials said he drew swastikas on a bathroom wall last month said the school district has not produced any evidence that proves his client was behind the anti-Semitic graffiti.
In an exclusive interview, attorney Justin Spizman, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, told Channel 2′s Michael Seiden that the teen did the right thing by reporting what he saw.
“He was the first person that reported this directly to the school,” said Spizman, who represents the accused student and his family. “Instead of recognizing him for doing something that was courageous and brave, they blamed him for it.”
Spizman said, despite the district’s failure to present any video evidence or testimony that proves his client is guilty, administrators still decided to suspend the student for 10 days with a recommendation for expulsion pending the outcome of a tribunal court hearing.
“There is not one piece of evidence that puts our client in the bathroom at the time that those swastikas are painted on that bathroom wall,” he said. “All that it shows is there’s a number of children that go in and out of that bathroom.”
The accused student, who asked to remain anonymous because he is traumatized by the accusations, immediately reported the anti-Semitic graffiti to teachers and administrators.
“He’s questioned and he provides an honest and truthful answer statement to what happened,” Spizman added. “He goes home from school and nothing happens.”
The photos of the graffiti went viral, prompting outrage from the Jewish community.
On September 23, parents, students, rabbis and other community leaders attended a school board meeting
where they criticized board members and administrators for not doing enough to confront racism in schools.
“We ask you to name this evil. It is racist, evil, anti-Semitic and Nazi propaganda,” said a parent who publicly addressed the school board.”
“My parents didn’t even want me speaking at this meeting tonight because they’re worried about a hate crime being committed against me or them because of it,” a high school student said.
After listening to public comments, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale condemned the incident and provided an update on the investigation.
“The administration has brought disciplinary charges
against those responsible, and the matter is proceeding through the disciplinary tribunal process required by Georgia law,” Ragsdale announced.
The mother of the accused teenager said she received an incident report the next day.
“Our disciplinary team concluded the student drew offensive drawings and marks in the school 300 hall bathroom,” according to the letter.
It also stated that her son would be suspended for 10 days with a recommendation of expulsion pending the outcome of the disciplinary hearing. The hearing never occurred.
After serving his suspension, the student’s mother was told that her son could return to school.
“My client’s mother receives a phone call from one of the administrators at the school and they tell her that they believed that a 10-day suspension was sufficient,” Spizman said.
“What is so troubling to me is how do you go from threatening to expel a young man for drawing a swastika on a bathroom wall to say, ‘You know what? Ten days is just fine,’” he added.
“There is never an apology. There’s never any show of remorse. There’s nothing other than them saying, ‘We believe that the punishment has fit the crime,’” he said.
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Channel 2 Action News reached out to the Cobb County School District to confirm how many other students were disciplined, and to give the district an opportunity to reply to the allegations. A district spokesperson sent the following response:
“As Superintendent Ragsdale said during the September Board meeting, ‘the District does not and will not tolerate hate in any form. Following an investigation, the administration has brought disciplinary charges against those responsible. The matter is proceeding to the disciplinary tribunal process required by Georgia law.’”
The accused student’s mother, who asked us not to identify her, sent Channel 2 Action News the following written statement:
“Our family has lived in East Cobb since 2003 and sent our three children to Cobb County Schools. There was a time when we believed in their integrity and ability to create a positive learning environment. It is difficult to find words to describe how disgusted and terrified we were when we heard about the first instance of hateful, anti-Semitic vandalism at Pope High School. We are aware of the hatred that exists in the world but hoped to protect our kids from this through inclusion, acceptance, and education.
“However, on September 15, we learned a second incident occurred at Pope, where a bathroom was vandalized with hateful graffiti containing anti-Semitic messages. It became clear that Pope High School had done nothing to protect its students.
“They then compounded our concern by conducting a sham investigation and blamed my son for the second incident. My son is not a racist, he is not an anti-Semite, and he did not do this. In fact, he was the child that reported these hurtful acts directly to the school.
“The school responded by making false accusations against him, suspend him, and take action to expel him. As it turns out, we learned they had no evidence to support these claims and rushed to judgment. Pope High School and its leadership were reckless, unapologetic, and showed no remorse once they realized they made a mistake.
“We were the fortunate ones that could hire counsel and fight these charges. Prior to even conducting a hearing on the matter, they dismissed their previous allegations against my child. But we are still left without answers. The truth is that Pope High continues to ignore the blatant racism living in the halls of their schools and instead points their finger at a minority student while allowing a hateful racist to continue to walk their halls.”
It is unclear if the student will file a lawsuit against the district. In the meantime, the family said they will continue to fight to clear the suspension from his permanent record.
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