COBB COUNTY, Ga. - A growing list of families say the Cobb County School District brushed off instances where their children were bullied at school.
One of those instances landed 10th-grader Jorge Santa in big trouble -- even though he says he was the victim.
As he sat in computer lab, Santa held strong against the racially-motivated verbal jabs and having his lunch stolen by two seniors. But what one of the older boys did next pushed him over the edge.
“Once he pulled that silly string out and sprayed it on me, there was no thinking. It was just self-defense from that point on,” Jorge said.
The fight landed Jorge in the principal’s office and eventually charged with aggravated assault and aggravated battery. The Cobb County district attorney later dropped those charges.
Jorge’s family told Channel 2 Action News Anchor Sophia Choi they’re now considering a lawsuit against the district for purposefully mislabeling incidents of bullying.
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Department of Education data reviewed by Channel 2 shows that Cobb Schools reported 616 bullying incidents in 2014. In 2018, there were 85 incidents – an 86-percent drop. Families said they believe the district is fudging their bullying numbers and not acting against accused bullies.
“They had walked up to him and sprayed him in the face with aerosol string. That in any book in the state of Georgia is simple assault,” Jorge’s father, who shares the same name, told Choi.
Santa said one of those who attacked him was a known bully at school. He said the boy is the same student involved in a June incident at Sara Babb park in Paulding County. According to police, the teen admitted he accidentally shot a teen in the eye after initially lying about it. His school discipline record, obtained by Choi, contains 22 incidents.
“He was bragging about how he was 18 and he owned a shot gun,” said David Thompson. David said the same student bullied him. “Then he said, ‘What would you do if I went to your house with a gun?’”
Despite the threat, David’s mother Carol Thompson said school leaders did nothing.
"Shut up. That’s the message… take it," Thompson said. She is also considering her legal options against Cobb Schools.
“They are intentionally -- intentionally -- misleading parents, allowing kids to go to school, where they're not enforcing bullying, putting lives at risk," attorney Mitch Skandalakis said.
Skandalakis represents Thompson, Santa and several other families.
“They've got something to hide here,” Skandalakis said.
He called Cobb School’s reporting an 86 percent drop in bullying over a five-year span absolute nonsense, especially when you see other school districts with a much smaller decrease. Over the same span of years, Fulton County schools had a 14 percent drop and DeKalb County schools had a 16 percent drop.
2014 was the same year Chris Ragsdale became superintendent. Choi requested to sit-down with Mr. Ragsdale to discuss the decrease and how bullying cases are handled at Cobb Schools. Instead, the district sent her this one sentence statement, “"The Cobb County School District takes every report of bullying seriously, and we strictly adhere to federal, state, and district guidelines concerning these issues."
“They're changing the game here. They're changing the rules. They're not enforcing bullying.
And the way to not enforce bullying is take a bullying incident and call it something else,” Skandalakis said.
“They're not even willing to even admit that it is a problem. You know, statistically, they're golden,” Carol Thompson said.
Parents said neither David or Jorge's incidents were classified as bullying by Cobb Schools, but instead, considered misunderstandings. Jorge’s school, Harrison High School reported zero instances of bullying last year.
“Slowly, I started seeing that there is a pattern, they are hiding it,” the elder Santa said. That zero instances of bullying at Harrison high school is what made the Santa's move to the area.
Skandalakis said he fears that mislabeling bullying will create a much bigger problem.
“Somebody's either going to commit suicide, somebody's going to shoot up the school or somebody's going to fight back,” Skandalakis said.
Jorge fought back but he says he might not the next time. After getting arrested, he says he's scared to even defend himself. The teen who allegedly bullied him graduated and is no longer at Harrison High.
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