‘We should just be at a basic level respected’ Campbell High students protest Cobb BOE a second time

A group of students in medical maks hold signs in protest at the Cobb school board meetingStudents silently protest racism at the Cobb County school board meeting (photo by Arielle Robinson)

By Arielle Robinson

With their initial requests ignored by the Cobb County Board of Education, a group of mostly Campbell High School students silently protested for a second time during the evening board meeting Thursday.

Students once again held signs and wore all black as they sat in the meeting. Three of the same students from the Smyrna high school who spoke last month during public comment did so again.

“What is the point of serving on a board if you do not listen to the concerns of the students who undergo the very conditions you put in place? …Keep the countless other faces of students who have seen racism, sexism, and several other forms of bigotry in your mind. Keep them in mind and change the code,” Campbell High student and co-organizer of the protests Radiya Ajibade told the school board sternly.

At the March school board meeting, students first silently protested the school district.

They want the district to enact stricter discipline for racist actions by students.

Thursday morning, a group of nearly 60 students from Campbell and other Cobb high schools signed on to a “Not Your Word” demand letter sent to the seven board members along with district Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, Chief Strategy and Accountability Officer John Floresta, Chief School Leadership Officer Sherri Hill, and Chief of Staff Dr. Kevin Daniel.

Specifically, they want the district to alter two parts of its code of conduct.

From the demand letter sent Thursday, they say they want:

“Section G: We demand amending G3 to include students.

i. G3 currently says “A student shall not use profane, obscene, or abusive language (written or oral) or gestures toward District personnel or other adults on school property or at school-sponsored events.

ii. We advocate for the inclusion of students into this section, raising the punishment from level 1-2 to level 2-4.

iii. We believe the current punishment does not address the severity of the

use of hate speech among students.

2. Section L: We demand changing L-2 offenses to a minimum of a level 3 punishment.

i. We advocate changing L-2 offenses to a level 3 punishment to ensure those who conduct racist behavior receive a minimum of 10 days in OSS.

ii. We believe the current regulations indicate a tolerance of hate speech and in doing so, downplays the harmful impacts experienced by those targeted.”

The students last month gave the district 30 days to provide a written response to their demands.

Kezia Kennedy, a Campbell High student and another organizer of the protests, said that the three Democrats on the board have been supportive but Ragsdale and the Republicans have kept quiet.

Kennedy said if there continues to be no response, students will continue to show up and also see what other options are available to them.

“If a board consistently works against the desires of their constituents, students will fail,” Kennedy said at the meeting. “If a board doesn’t allow for people under 18 to speak on their issues, students will fail. If a board is given a request and doesn’t even take the time to acknowledge it, students will fail. Unfortunately, the Cobb County board has done all of the above, and thus — students are failing. Whether it be academically or socially, students are failing. So as I said about one month ago, if we truly want student success, this board must put in the work. What is this work? Changing the code of conduct.”

Campbell student Marli English expressed disappointment with the board.

“It is not a matter which is out of your hands, we know this for a fact. It is a matter of avoidance. It is a clear disregard for our concerns…We are children who feel the effects of the vile, hateful language and actions that board members have chosen to be complacent in. Complacency will always be remembered. We should act on what is best for our students,” English said.

Cobb students from various high schools have pleaded with the school board to change certain policies for at least a year. They have repeatedly been met with silence from the majority of the members and the superintendent.

Earlier this year, Lassiter High School students wanted the board to change a policy in place for at least a decade that says students under 18 must have a guardian present in order to speak at board meetings.

Similar to the situation of Campbell students, only the three Democrats expressed support for and responded to the Lassiter students’ emails. Republicans voted against the proposed change.

Starting in 2020, Wheeler High School students appealed to the school board multiple times to change the name of the Cobb school named for a Confederate general.

A previous Courier story reported that in a summer email campaign, the coalition of Wheeler students sent each board member a total of 22 emails, with only the Democrats responding and giving what the students said was a “meaningful” reply.

In their demand letter and during public comment, the Campbell students compare what they are doing to student movements occurring locally and historically in Georgia.

The letter references “An Appeal for Human Rights,” a manifesto written by students from the Atlanta University Center in 1960 that called for equal rights for Black people.

This document marked the start of the Atlanta Student Movement, which participated in acts of civil disobedience to realize its goal of civil rights.

The demand letter from Cobb students reads in part:

“We pledge our shared responsibility to continue to champion equal rights, as did those students who came before us to draft and execute ‘An Appeal for Human Rights,’ which aimed to secure long-awaited rights and privileges. We believe their vision has not yet been realized. Although we have achieved much progress, we recognize that every day, our fellow students in Cobb County, as well as across Georgia—Black, brown, LGBTQ+, young and old—are in the streets, the press, and the ballot boxes fighting against conditions that should have been ameliorated decades ago. We join them, and our predecessors of 62 years ago, in this fight. Why? Because despite having numerous chances to fix the mistakes of the past, our representatives, specifically our board members, continue to permit these faults.”

Kennedy further related the letter written by Black students in the 60s to their own actions. She said racist events at her school disrupt her learning.

“We should just be at a basic level respected,” Kennedy said. “I shouldn’t have to go through the hallway wondering ‘oh, what is my peer thinking about me?’ Are they saying a racial slur about me, a slur about my gender, anything like that?”

Campbell student Ashton Greene said that Black students should not have to be put through so many “trials and tribulations” to get a result from schools and the district on racism.

Kennedy agreed, saying, “One of the things I was thinking about tonight was empathy — and the lack of empathy that the board has.”

“We have to repeat ourselves over and over and it just doesn’t end up with any type of change in our school board,” Greene said.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.