Long after I graduated from Cobb Schools, the partisanship problem has only gotten worse

education icon with silhouette of teach in front of class, holding a baton to a board.

by Gabriel Sanchez

I remember the first instance of experiencing the subtle attacks on our education. I was taking notes in my history class at Walton High School and perked up when my teacher said the Civil War was primarily about “states’ rights.” “That’s weird,” I thought. “I could’ve sworn it was about slavery.” I was right. This was simply framing the curriculum to downplay the horrors of slavery and racism in the US. It is a clear example of politics getting in the way of our education. When I read about the email that Cobb Schools sent to parents, it reminded me of that day in history class. However, this time, it seems the subtlety has been thrown out the window.

On Friday, October 20th, an email was sent out by the Cobb County School District (CCSD) that was written by Freeman Mathis & Gary (FMG) law firm, who work with Cobb County Schools. They were providing an “update” on a lawsuit against the Cobb County School Board maps, which is undergoing a settlement process. While the title of the email says “update,” it reads more like an off-the-rail political rant on Facebook, including a calling out of  “leftist political activists.”

For a board and superintendent who claim they want to remove politics from the classrooms, this is quite the way to do it. This is not a statement that should be sanctioned and publicized by CCSD. Not only is it unprofessional, it is a dangerous precedent to start using official channels for strictly political purposes. It is incredible that people who are supposed to work for and represent the students, parents, and faculty of Cobb Schools would think that anything like this would be appropriate to publish. They are shamelessly using their power to push their political agenda.

It is clear that many of the underlying policies and decisions by the board are driven by this same political agenda. The firing of Elementary School teacher Katie Rinderle for reading a book to her class about a non-binary child is a perfect example. It’s a children’s book about accepting those who are different. The majority of students in the class voted to read the book, yet only one parent had to complain for her to undergo an investigation. A 3-person panel of former educators heard the case and recommended that she not be fired, but the school board – along partisan lines – voted to fire her anyway. The school board and superintendent decided to prioritize their political ideology and personal beliefs over the needs of the students.

There were similar criticisms of the board and superintendent for how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic, failing to prioritize the safety of students. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and two board members refused to wear masks, even during a moment of silence for a Cobb teacher who died from COVID. There is a reason many parents have been calling for the Superintendent to be fired for years. Despite not being voted into his position, he represents his political ideology and his“base”, rather than the students, parents, or faculty of Cobb Schools. 

Speaking of representation, what is the relationship between FMG and the School Board? Is it normal for counties to rely so heavily on a firm, especially one connected to State Representative Ginny Erhart, a local Republican Cobb politician?

Her husband, Earl Erhart, who is a former State House Representative, is currently a manager of FMG’s Government Affairs division.

He also works with Taylor English Duma, the firm hired to draw the maps for the Cobb School Board that are the subject of the litigation that this email is calling an “attack” on Cobb Schools. It is interesting that this email condemns “political activists” in government positions when it seems the authors of it are involved in an interconnected web of political activists, elected officials, and government officials working closely together to enforce and maintain a specific political ideology.

It’s clear that if we want to truly get rid of toxic partisanship in Cobb Schools, we need to start by removing the current leadership and their political allies.

As a former Cobb student, I would like current students to feel like they are getting a quality education.

Gabriel Sanchez is a Smyrna resident and former Cobb student who has been a community advocate in Cobb and Atlanta for several years. He has worked on campaigns and at non-profits, specializing in community organizing, grassroots fundraising, and policy research.