On September 29, 2021, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him for “federal assistance to stop threats” against school board members. Local school boards had complained that parents who didn’t like the “teaching” going on in government schools, transgender policies, or masking had threatened some members.
The letter, authored by Viola M. Garcia, then-president of the board, and Chip Slaven, the-interim executive director and CEO, invoked the Patriot Act “in regards to domestic terrorism,” enacted after Islamic terrorists murdered closed to 3,000 people on American soil. The Patriot Act expanded the government’s authority to increase domestic surveillance, agency coordination, detention without trial, and other controversial provisions.
The NSBA also asked that the U.S. Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the FBI review “acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a response (PDF). He wrote that he would direct federal law enforcement officials to work with local law enforcement to discuss strategies for dealing with a “disturbing spike” in “threats of violence.”
The U.S. attorneys of 17 states formed a coalition to protect parents.
“Parents who advocate for their children at school board meetings in a nonviolent way are heroes and are necessary to improve our schools,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor wrote. “To call them ‘domestic terrorists’ is bullying by the Biden Administration. Parents have rights under the First Amendment, and our school boards should solicit and welcome parental input. Our schools will be better educators if they will listen to the parents.”
Parents Defending Education asked 47 state school board associations to comment on the NSBA’s letter. State school boards began distancing themselves from the NSBA (26 as of this writing). Some stopped paying dues, and others withdrew altogether.
In a memo dated October 22, 2021, the NSBA’s board of directors issued an apology to state school board members and removed the letter from its website. The board stated that “there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter,” and apologized for the “strain and stress.”
“As we’ve reiterated since the letter was sent, we deeply value not only the work of local school boards that make important contributions within our communities, but also parents, who should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s health, education, and safety.”
The NSBA announced that it would conduct an independent review of what happened but did not apologize to parents. NSBA released the findings of its review in May 2022.
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.
Current CEO and executive director John Heim said that the September 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]
AG Garland has not withdrawn his response to the NSBA.
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