Critics are pushing back against Attorney General Merrick Garland’s effort to mobilize federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies against uncited ‘threats of violence’ against public school administrators, board members, teachers and staff. Critics, from parents to government leaders, worry this is an effort to effectively silence parents who wish to be active in their children’s education, hold their schools accountable over curriculum concerns, and otherwise voice their opinions to local elected school leadership.
These threats from the Biden Administration come in the wake of months of lively school board meetings at which parents have been especially critical of racially-charged and sexually explicit materials and curriculum, as well as mask and vaccine mandates.
Attorney General Garland’s directive came in an October 4th memo to the FBI, ordering the agency to convene meetings over the next thirty days in each of the nation’s judicial districts to address what he described as “violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation and harassment.”
The memo was a response to a letter sent to President Biden just days before by the National School Boards Association. The NSBA is a tax-payer funded lobbying association whose funds come via member dues of local school boards. Local school board seats are filled by local elections with ‘discouragingly low’ voter turnout, often at 5-10%, and with an average of two candidates per seat or fewer. In other words, the NSBA and its member boards are hardly representative of most parents of school-aged children.
In the letter to the Biden administration, the NSBA refers to “attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks” as well as the inclusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in curricula.
The letter calls the CRT concerns ‘propaganda’ and cites an ACLED ‘fact sheet’ supporting what it calls ‘physical threats’ due to anti-CRT views. The fact sheet, however, offers no evidence of threats or violence out of 78 CRT-related demonstrations that are analyzed, including three protests where militias participated (concluding “…all anti-CRT events involving these actors have remained peaceful”).
Citing a handful of local examples of what it calls “acts of malice, violence, and threats,” not all of which appear equally ‘heinous’, the NSBA nevertheless says, “the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
This language was seen by many, including lawmakers, as an attempt to suppress parental involvement in local schools:
“The DOJ’s threat to investigate concerned parents as ‘domestic terrorists’ will intimidate those parents, chill free speech, and discourage lawful assemblies,” said Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement, “We should encourage family participation in our schools, not baselessly attack opposing views because leftist groups want control over curriculums.”
Parents also expressed opposition:
“Your letter to President Biden is a thinly veiled threat, intended to intimidate into silence and submission the very constituents that your members ostensibly represent.,” Parents Defending Education said in a statement.
Nicole Solas, a parent from Rhode Island, called the FBI “the politics police,” arguing that “any legitimate violence is sufficiently addressed by your local police.”
Another mother, Elana Fishbein from Pennsylvania, said, “This is indeed appalling, outrageous, insane that the DOJ is weaponizing the FBI to oppose the policies and actions of the school board [critics]. This is something that should be very worrisome to every single parent in our country.”