Robotics lab conversion for Wheeler, discussion of antisemitic graffiti likely at school board meeting

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Sep. 21—The $378,000 conversion of a theater building at Wheeler High School to a robotics lab could soon get underway, if the Cobb school board approves at its Thursday meeting the district's recommended contractor.

Public comment at that meeting is also expected to include speakers who will give remarks on the antisemitic graffiti found at two east Cobb high schools earlier this month.

The robotics lab conversion would be paid for under the current cycle of the county's 1% sales tax for education and is expected to be complete in March 2022, according to the board's agenda item.

A new theater was built a few years ago on the campus, and the original theater is the building that will be converted, according to Cobb school board Chairman Randy Scamihorn.

Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale has recommended the school board approve Bon Building Services, of Conyers, to complete the project.

Since the discovery of swastikas and other antisemitic rhetoric were found in bathrooms at Pope and Lassiter high schools earlier this month, Cobb's Jewish faith community, school officials and anti-hate groups have taken actions to investigate and to speak out against the antisemitic graffiti.

Public comment on Thursday is likely to see speakers who aim to address the incidents.

A pair of swastikas and the phrase "Hail Hitler" scrawled on the walls of a boys bathroom at Pope High School were first brought to the attention of Senior Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, of east Cobb's Temple Kol Emeth on Sept. 9.

Sernovitz said he immediately contacted Pope Principal Thomas Flugum and Cobb County School District administration and was given permission to speak to Pope students after their lunch periods that Friday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, Lassiter High School's principal, Chris Richie, said the school had found antisemitic graffiti in one of its bathrooms.

Both schools are investigating those incidents, and Scamihorn said neither investigation has yet been completed.

The incidents provoked a response from the Anti-Defamation League, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, and most recently, a petition from the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism that urges Cobb parents to attend Thursday's school board meeting to speak on the incidents.

Scamihorn told the Journal this week that he "wholeheartedly, without hesitation," condemns "any hate speech, any hate gestures, be they signs or graffiti."

"There's no place for making people feel uncomfortable for what they believe," he said. "I hope the people responsible are just woefully ignorant, but that's no excuse."

The school board moved its originally scheduled Sept. 16 meeting to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish faith.

Scamihorn also attended a Yom Kippur service at Temple Kol Emeth, an experience that he said was one for learning and for demonstrating to students, staff and faculty in Cobb Schools that it's "unacceptable to make anybody in our community feel uncomfortable."

Still, the district has been criticized for its handling of the fallout from those incidents, including by the Anti-Defamation League, which said the district failed to immediately "characterize the incident as antisemitic."

The board meets Thursday at 2:30 p.m. for an afternoon work session before going into a closed-door session. The board returns for a voting session at 7 p.m. Meetings are held in the board room at the district's central office at 514 Glover St., Marietta.

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