GA Board of Education finds Cobb school board in violation of law in expulsion of Campbell High student

The logo on front of a Cobb County School District facilityCobb County School District sign (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued the following news release about the reversal of a decision by the Cobb County Board of Education to expel a Campbell High School student with a learning disability.

Correction: our previous headline characterized the action by the Cobb school board as a suspension rather than expulsion. We regret the error.

COBB COUNTY, Ga. – The Georgia Board of Education has reversed a decision by the Cobb County Board of Education to expel a Black Campbell High School student in violation of his due process rights. The student, who is referred to by his initials N.G., has missed more than 100 days of classroom instruction following the expulsion. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) represented him during his appeal.

On Thursday, the state board found that the Cobb County Board of Education violated Georgia law and the constitutional due process rights of N.G., a sophomore student with a learning disability, by failing to provide reasonable notice of the charges against him as required by law and the district’s own policies before excluding him from school. The board voted unanimously to reverse the decision, which allows N.G. to return to school. 

Under the U.S. Constitution, students are entitled to a fair process before they are excluded from public school for alleged misconduct. Georgia law specifies that all students be “afforded an opportunity for a hearing after reasonable notice.” The notice must be served in person or by mail and include a statement of the time, place, and nature of the hearing and a brief statement of the issues to be addressed. It must also assert the rights of all parties to present evidence in their defense and be represented by legal counsel. 

“The state board of education’s decision affirms important statewide precedent that protects students’ right to a fundamentally fair process before they are deprived of their education,” said Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group. “For too long, the Cobb County school district has perpetuated the school-to-prison pipeline by disproportionately expelling and criminalizing hundreds of Black children and children with disabilities. N.G.’s story highlights the disparities that Black students and students with disabilities experience in Cobb County.” 

As a 10th grade student, N.G. reads on a third-grade level and struggles with basic math, phonics and reading comprehension. Federal law requires the district to identify students with disabilities for special education services and reevaluate them every three years. However, N.G.’s learning disability was not initially identified until the fourth grade and he has not been reevaluated for more than six years. The district has failed to provide him with appropriate services. And because of the board’s decision to expel N.G., he has fallen further behind academically. 

“Policies that punish serve no pedagogical purpose. Exclusionary discipline is harmful, ineffective, and disproportionately impacts children of color and children with disabilities,” said Tafelski. “The SPLC stands with students, families, and local organizers who, for years, have been calling for an end to Cobb County’s discriminatory discipline practices. If Cobb County leaders will not proactively end the district’s unlawful policies, then we will continue to hold them accountable in the courts.” 

For the past several months, students at Campbell High School have protested the district’s disparate discipline policies and practices and its failure to meaningfully address hate against Black and Jewish students. Based on a preliminary analysis of the district’s discipline data, the SPLC found that Black students account for nearly 53% of disciplinary action within the district despite representing 33% of the student population. Students with disabilities account for about 28% of all discipline reports but make up only about 12-13% of the student population. 

School officials alleged that they found N.G. in possession of a vape pen appearing to contain THC in the school bathroom. The accusation came amid heightened surveillance of the school bathrooms after anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on the walls — prompting widespread outrage and calls for the district to act. No one has been held responsible for this action.