A school board in Georgia launched an investigation into an alleged antisemitic incident in which students daubed swastikas and the phrase “Hail Hitler” on a local high school, drawing national attention.
The graffiti was discovered Thursday —the day after Rosh Hashanah and two days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks— in a restroom at Alan C. Pope High School in the city of Marietta.
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Following the incident, the school sent a letter to parents expressing concern over the “hateful graffiti” and promising to “hold those responsible accountable to our district policies and applicable state laws.”
"The Cobb County School District is one of the most diverse school districts in the nation. We enjoy a wide variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity among our population.
At Pope High School, we are proud to be a welcoming, safe, and considerate community for all of our students. Disturbing acts like what occurred this week have no place in our district or at our school and will not be tolerated,” the principal wrote, according to local NBC affiliate WXIA.
While a spokesperson for the Cobb County School District told CNN that the school’s principal had “engaged with community groups who have been affected by this student behavior,” the Anti-Defamation League has condemned local authorities’ response to the incident.
In a statement, the watchdog organization said the school’s letter addressing the graffiti had “failed to characterize the incident as antisemitic” and that a message it had sent to school officials offering assistance had gone unanswered.
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“As hate crimes surge in Georgia and across the country, it’s unacceptable that Cobb County Schools is failing to address or even name antisemitic incidents occurring in their own schools and refusing to engage with ADL to respond effectively,” said ADL Southern Division Vice President Allison Padilla-Goodman.
“ADL has long been a partner to Pope High School and Cobb County Schools, but the passage of their resolution banning Critical Race Theory could tie their hands in responding to and countering incidents of hate through educational initiatives for the school community.”
This summer, the Cobb County School Board voted to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in local schools, a field of legal scholarship dealing with structural inequalities between races that is rarely, if ever, taught on the elementary level and which has become a popular target on the American right. The resolution banning CRT did not define the term, leaving the scope of the ban unclear.
According to the ADL, the board also cut ties with its No Place For Hate anti-bullying initiative.
Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, the spiritual leader of Marietta’s Temple Kol Emeth, who met with school officials following the incident, also complained that officials failed to properly address the issue.
“It is a hate crime, it is antisemitic, and unfortunately the school district failed to call that out,” he told CBS 46. “They said there was some bad activity, no, this is a hate crime, this is antisemitism.”
In a separate interview with WXIA, Sernovitz said that several students involved in the incident have been identified.
“As parents, we can't begin to understand what, how, why any of this would happen at our school, seemingly all in one day, but we can use this as an opportunity to teach our children,” the lan C. Pope High School Parent Teacher Student Association said in a Facebook post.
“Many will call these teenage pranks, but these are hate crimes - and destroying property and stealing from your school is a felony. We stand together with ALL of our families and will not tolerate or accept hate.”
Sen. Jon Ossoff, Georgia's first Jewish senator, decried the attacks during his remarks at a local Yom Kippur service. "My generation was raised with the words, never forget, pressed into our minds. And so when at Pope High School in Marietta, Georgia, a swastika and a tribute to Adolf Hitler are scrawled on school walls — during Yamim Noraim, our days of awe, no less, it must inflame in us the same passion for the survival of our people that burned in the hearts of the generation that emerged from the Shoah, and built a future for the Jewish people here in America, around the world, and in the land of Israel," Ossoff told Atlanta's Reform Temple Emanu-El.
According to the FBI, hate crimes rose six percent in Georgia in 2020, local CBS affiliate WRBL reported last week.
Ben Samuels contributed to this report