From the Archives: NSBA Admits It Was Wrong to Send White House a Letter Comparing Parents to Domestic Terrorists

This post was originally published in May 2022.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) didn’t like that parents were showing up at local school board meetings and asking questions about inappropriate material taught in classrooms (critical race theory, for example) and found in libraries. Parents also spoke out against mask mandates.

The NSBA apparently considered concerned parents a crisis. Viola Garcia, former NSBA president, and Chip Slaven, former interim executive director/CEO, last September sent a letter to President Joe Biden claiming that parents were threatening school board members and asked the federal government to investigate parents, comparing them to domestic terrorists.

In response, Attorney General Merrick Garland tasked the FBI to work with state and local governments to investigate the supposed threats.

Both letters caused a backlash. According to Ballotpedia, 22 state school boards have withdrawn from the NSBA or suspended participation — including California.

The NSBA board of directors apologized to member school boards for the letter. The group claimed the board of directors did not approve it. As a result of the apology, House Republicans asked Garland to withdraw his memo. So far, Garland has not withdrawn it.

The NSBA last Friday released the findings of an independent review of the matter. The findings are not good for the NSBA. The review found that Slaven and the White House collaborated on the letter but didn’t find evidence that the Biden administration requested the letter, as some sources reported.

A previous draft of the letter called for the Army National Guard and the military to be deployed to certain school districts and related events where these supposed violent threats occurred.

The letter’s drafters shared it with board officers but not the entire board.

The current CEO and executive director, John Heim, said the letter “directly contradicts our core commitments to parent engagement, local control, and nonpartisanship. The sentiments shared in the letter do not represent the views or position of the NSBA. The NSBA does not seek or advocate for federal law enforcement intervention at local school board meetings.” [emphasis added]

The NSBA claims that it is non-partisan and advocates local control. The organization also said it is committed to parent engagement. Among the policy changes: amended the constitution “to refine the scope of our advocacy to ‘a united, non-partisan national movement'” and adopted a resolution to oppose “federal intrusion and the expansion of executive authority by the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies in the absence of authorizing legislation.”

The NSBA also amended its belief statement to include the following: “NSBA believes school boards must lead through community engagement, particularly with parents and guardians of the students they serve. NSBA urges school boards to encourage and support partnerships between schools, communities, community organizations, families and local government that bring together critical resources and enhance strategies that help students master academic and life skills and develop civic responsibility, and address students’ emotional, social and physical well-being at school and beyond.”

The NSBA sought to assure members that nothing like this will happen again, but is it enough for member states that left the NSBA to return?

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