Two state education membership groups are denouncing a letter the National School Board Association sent recently to President Joe Biden, a letter that inspired Attorney General Merrick Garland to say last week that the FBI and U.S. attorneys would take on “threats of violence” against school boards and teachers by angry parents.
The school board associations of Louisiana and Virginia both have blasted the Sept. 29 letter by the NSBA, contending that local and state law enforcement can handle any such disturbances without federal intervention, reports The Washington Examiner.
The VSBA and LSBA in separate letters sent last week said the NSBA did not consult with them before sending its own correspondence to Biden.
The latter letter and Garland’s response have set off a firestorm of criticism, with many leaders and educators saying a promised crackdown carries the risk of curbing parents’ free-speech objections to such matters as coronavirus mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory.
The state associations said that threats do exist but that they do not believe the Department of Justice should be involved in grappling with them. That would constitute an example of federal overreach.
Instead, local matters should be handled locally or by state law enforcement, they said.
“There are times when discourse may be challenging to navigate but open discourse is a necessary course to chart in public service. However, threats are never an appropriate response,” the LSBA said in its letter.
“There is no justification for physical or verbal threats directed against them, their staff, and certainly not the students,” the VSBA wrote. “Nor is there any excuse for disrupting a public meeting. When such unfortunate events occur, the local officials, working with local law enforcement, must deal with the situation appropriately.”
School meetings have become raucous in recent weeks and months as parents have become upset with such issues as mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory. Viral videos have shown irate parents yelling at school board members during some meetings on these topics.
“The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate,” Garland said in a memo directing federal resources to combat the problem. “In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
But Bill Jacobson, a lawyer, Cornell Law School professor, and founder of a conservative news blog that has followed critical race theory developments, told the Examiner he has not seen widespread violence to school officials over curricula.
“Generally speaking, from what I’ve seen, the only time there’s any level of violence is where somebody is at the microphone and the school board cuts them off, and the school board calls in the police to remove a person,” Jacobson said. “I’ve not seen reports of school board members being attacked, and if they were, it shouldn’t happen; and local law enforcement is well equipped to deal with it.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said any such conduct is a crime in his state and will be prosecuted on the state and local level, but vowed to defend parents against what he called “efforts to intimidate legitimate disagreement.”
Many state and local jurisdictions are in deep conflict over whether to require students and staff to wear masks as a protection from COVID-19.
Then there is the other highly divisive issue of the moment, the debate over teaching critical race theory in schools. The central idea of critical race theory is that racism is institutionalized and is embedded in America’s history, legal systems, and policies.