Pennsylvania, Missouri, & Ohio School Boards Associations leave national association, 22 states distance themselves from ‘domestic terrorism’ language applied to parents

(Updated 10/28)

Last week, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) voted to cancel its longtime membership with the National School Boards Association (NSBA). A week later, the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) and Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) did the same. Several other states are reevaluating their membership. The PSBA said its “final straw” was a letter from the national group requesting federal law enforcement intervention in local threats toward school board members. The letter was seen by many to be an attempt to squash parental opposition to curriculum and the adoption of controversial policies.

In response to a request for comment from Parents Defending Education, 22 states have formally distanced themselves from the NSBA’s letter as of October 27. The board associations in Louisiana and Florida each said they haven’t paid their dues and will be determining next steps, indicating a possible departure. Alabama says it is ‘reevaluating’ its membership. The dissenting state associations described the NSBA actions with words like ‘clear overreach’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘huge step backwards’, and they emphasize they were not consulted before the NSBA sent its letter.

The Missouri association released a letter to its members on Monday, announcing its departure and calling the NSBA’s language ‘inflammatory’:

attempting to address that issue with federal intervention should not be the first step in most cases, and is antithetical to our longstanding tradition of local control. Further, the use of inflammatory terms in the NSBA letter is not a model for promoting greater civility and respect for the democratic process.

The Pennsylvania association took issue with NSBA’s use of the term ‘domestic terrorism’. In a memo to its members, the PSBA said,

The most recent national controversy surrounding a letter to President Biden suggesting that some parents should be considered domestic terrorists was the final straw. This misguided approach has made our work and that of many school boards more difficult. Now is not the time for more politics and posturing, it is time for solutions to the many challenges facing education.

The PSBA said it disavows any threats of violence against school board members but “attempting to solve the problems with a call for federal intervention is not the place to begin, nor a model for promoting greater civility and respect for the democratic process. A school board meeting needs to be the model of democracy in action – locally elected officials hearing from the public as local solutions are debated and formulated.”

The Ohio association, in a letter announcing their departure, said:

We believe the letter from NSBA leadership demonstrated how out of touch the national association is with the concerns of local school boards and the principle of local control. Because of that, OSBA no longer sees the value of continued NSBA membership.

On October 27, a group of 35 Idaho legislators signed a letter asking the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) to withdraw membership from the NSBA. The ISBA has already issued a letter distancing themselves from the NSBA though they have not withdrawn to date.

In its September 29 letter, the NSBA requested federal law enforcement assistance to deal with what they describe as increased threats and acts of violence by citizens against public school children, school board members, and school officials. Most of these threats, according to the NSBA, stem from conflicts over issues such as mask mandates and critical race theory. “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the letter said.

Following weeks of controversy and pushback from state associations, the NSBA released an apology on Oct 22, saying ‘there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter’.