Cobb County parents question representation on school board following controversy over electoral maps

A  lawsuit, filed June 9, 2022, alleges that the Cobb County Board of Education and Georgia legislators used racial demographic information to “pack” voters of color into three of the seven school board voting districts (Districts 2, 3 and 6), limiting the opportunity for voters of color to elect their preferred candidate and preserving a white majority on the board.

Cobb County election officials recently settled a federal lawsuit alleging that maps drawn for the Board of Education violated the Constitution by disproportionately grouping voters of color.

Cobb is the third most populous county in Georgia, and it is one of the most rapidly diversifying counties in the state. The suit claims the racial gerrymandering of the school board voting districts violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The suit was filed by residents of the county, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of several other voting and civil rights organizations. 

Parents in Cobb County then received an email from the school district saying that “leftist political activists” were responsible for the settlement. 

Though the message came from the Cobb County School District’s email address, it was signed by Freeman, Mathis & Gary (FMG), the law firm representing the district against charges of racial discrimination. 

“I thought it was kind of bonkers that an email that had such a negative and divisive tone was sent to every family in the district through this email platform,” said House Representative Teri Anulewicz (D-Smyrna), who is a parent in Cobb County. “It’s the email platform that’s normally used to let us know that there’s going to be inclement weather, or to remind us that we need to sign our kids up for the PSAT.” 

Anulewicz serves as the Chair of the Cobb County Legislative Delegation and was part of Cobb’s original redistricting process following the 2020 US Census. 

Anulewicz said that local officials like herself are generally responsible for drawing the electoral maps for their counties’ Board of Education; these maps are then pooled and rubber-stamped in the state General Assembly as local legislation. 

But there is also a process for maps to undergo individual scrutiny by the entire General Assembly, which is what happened to the original maps drawn for Cobb County. 

Anulewicz said, at the time, this was a concerning, unprecedented departure from the norm because Georgia’s majority Republican General Assembly exercised their influence over a county that swung for Joe Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

“Representatives that don’t know anything about Cobb County, don’t live anywhere near Cobb County… were voting on what our maps are going to look like,” she said.

Despite pushback from Democratic Cobb lawmakers at the time, the maps were redrawn and passed by the state last year. 

Four Cobb residents—represented by the ACLU and SPLC—then sued the county’s Board of Elections in the case settled earlier this month. 

“This is not a settlement but a total surrender by the Elections Board,” FMG wrote in their message to Cobb County parents. “This hasty settlement by the Elections Board, which they worked out in secrecy with their politically allied plaintiffs, is designed to avoid any legal effort to defend the current map.” 

“It threw me,” said Todd Slutzky, a Cobb County parent with three children in the school district. “It just felt in poor taste and kind of petty.”

Slutzky said, though the message was technically written by FMG and not the Cobb County school board, “it seems totally in line with the school board—it’s highly politicized”

“It seems so draconian and intense,” he continued. “It just isn’t how we want—how any of us want our community being led.”

Slutzky added that this incident reminded him of other instances when Cobb’s majority Republican school board seemed out of touch with the increasingly diversifying community. 

Katie Rinderle, a Cobb County teacher, shares her story on “Closer Look” about why she was fired from the district. (LaShawn Hudson/WABE)

Earlier this fall, the school board fired Katie Rinderle for reading the picture book “My Shadow Is Purple” by Scott Stuart to her fifth-grade class; the seven-member board voted along party lines, four Republicans to three Democrats. 

A spokesperson for the Cobb County School District said that they are “focused on students and schools while lawyers focus on the courtroom,” but ‘appreciate’ their attorneys keeping the community updated. 

The seven-member school board consists of four Republicans and three Democrats. 

“They don’t seem to embrace anything where people seem to want our community to go,” Slutzky said. “It feels like the school board is holding on to the last dying gasp of power. And they’re going to hold on until it gets taken from them, I guess.”

Earlier this week, the group of Cobb residents who settled their case against the Board of Education filed a motion for injunction. They are requesting the judge rule by December, granting enough time for an interim map to be adopted and implemented ahead of the 2024 election. 

Three of the four Republicans on the school board right now will be on the ballot in 2024.