Cobb County School District’s decision on discipline appeal expected Thursday

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

By Rebecca Gaunt

The Cobb County School Board is expected to vote on a discipline appeal filed by a former Campbell High School student at Thursday’s meeting.

N.G., then a 16-year-old sophomore, was expelled in September 2021 for allegedly possessing a vape pen with THC. He appealed the decision, but by the time the Georgia Board of Education overturned Cobb’s finding, on the grounds that the student was denied his due process rights by the district, he had already served the expulsion and missed the remainder of his tenth grade year.

N.G. completed his GED and his family moved out of the Cobb County school district during this time. However, following his appeal win, the district informed the family that N.G. was facing another disciplinary hearing with additional consequences on Aug. 3.

The hearing officer found him guilty of possessing the vape pen and THC, but did not inflict the extended expulsion requested by the district.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center press release:

Today, the Cobb County Board of Education will vote again to decide whether to affirm the finding that N.G., a former Campbell High School student, violated the code of conduct. N.G. is one of hundreds of Black students and students with disabilities who face expulsion in Cobb County each year – a predictable outcome after years of neglect by the school district, which failed to provide N.G. with the evaluative and support services his mother requested and to which he was entitled under the law.

Cobb County routinely tramples on the rights of students without resistance and by denying students facing exclusionary discipline a fundamentally fair process. For too long, Black students and students with disabilities, like N.G., have been disproportionately harmed by Cobb County’s discriminatory and ineffective discipline practices.

During the 2021-2022 school year, CCSD conducted 739 discipline hearings, seeking long-term exclusion of students in the district. Only 21 of those students had a lawyer. Students in CCSD, like N.G., are presumed guilty. School disciplinary hearings are generally sham exercises used to achieve that predetermined outcome.

According to SPLC attorney Claire Sherburne, N.G. had no intention of re-enrolling in any Georgia public school, given he had already obtained his GED and enrolled in trade school, but such a punishment could possibly have prevented him from doing so in any district had he planned to do so.

Sherburne told the Courier that the Campbell administrators who testified at the August hearing were not consulted about the decision to pursue additional punishment. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale was asked to testify but successfully filed a motion against the subpoena.

From the SPLC press release:

“The Board should reverse the disciplinary decision because it was contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and a violation of N.G.’s right to due process, and because the district unlawfully retaliated against N.G. for exercising his right to appeal, by initiating new discipline proceedings and seeking an extended punishment in violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” the appeal filing states.

The Cobb County Board of Education will vote on the appeal at the next meeting on Thursday, September 15.

“I don’t understand why the district dragged us back into this. I pay taxes. My taxpayer money is for N.G. to go to school in this county,” N.G.’s mother said. “But he won’t go to his high school prom or do anything he should be doing in high school because the district pushed him out. Now, N.G. has finished his expulsion and gotten his GED, but it seems like the district is still trying to tell him he’s not welcome. Did anyone from the district ever think maybe he needed help? No. No one ever tried to do anything. And I did go to the school to ask for help. But this is what we got.”

The following statement is from Claire Sherburne, senior attorney for the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group:

“N.G. has long moved on and is now pursuing a career as an HVAC technician in an area outside of Cobb County. Still, at significant taxpayer expense, Cobb County’s lawyers pursued a new hearing, seeking to extend N.G.’s expulsion to the 2022-2023 school year. We believe that this decision, led by Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, was an illegal act of retaliation for N.G.’s successful appeal to the state board of education, and should be reversed by the Cobb County Board of Education at Thursday’s meeting.

“Though N.G. was accused of possessing a vape pen that allegedly contained THC, the school failed to prove it during the hearing. The school resource officer acknowledged in his testimony that the result of the field test he administered, with no prior experience, was inconclusive. Yet, the hearing officer found N.G. in violation of the rule based solely on this insufficient and unreliable evidence.

“We will continue to stand with students like N.G., caregivers, and community members who seek to dismantle these racist and discriminatory systems and practices in pursuit of real educational justice.”

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.