A letter sent to President Joseph Biden in September by members of the National School Board Association (NSBA) has created a firestorm of controversy that forced the board to walk back some of the terms used to describe parents upset about recent decisions regarding COVID-19 mandates and Critical Race Theory.
“On behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter,” a statement from the Board of Directors issued on Oct. 22 reads. “To be clear, the safety of school board members, other school officials and educators, and students remains our top priority, and there remains important work to be done on this issue.”
“However, there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter. We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance. We also apologize for the strain and stress this situation has caused you and your organizations,” the statement continues.
The letter in question was drafted by Viola Garcia, President of NSBA, and co-signed by acting CEO Chip Slaven. Emails obtained by Parents Defending Education through Freedom of Information Act requests show that board members were not consulted before the letter was sent.
The letter requested that Federal officials investigate claims of controversial behavior by parents attending school board meetings nationwide. The letter implies that the actions of some parents have risen to a criminal level deserving of a federal investigation. Parents are accused of disrupting board meetings and making threatening statements against board members in person and through email.
“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 reads.
In response, U.S. Attorney General Marrick Garland issued a memo on Oct. 4 addressing the concerns of the Board President. Garland has ordered the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet within 30 days with law enforcement leaders to discuss steps to take.
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” wrote Attorney General Garland in a statement. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”
Rather than quiet the angry parents, the letter has only caused more anger toward members of school boards.
Through its investigation, Parents Defending Education determined that Garcia and Slaven were in communication with the Biden Administration for weeks before the issuance of the letter fueling speculation that NSBA and the White House colluded to create a task force instructed with silencing dissenting opinions.
“I have no doubt that this was done with the best of intentions and in an attempt to support our members and our schools during this difficult time for us. Many of us have faced challenges these last two years that we have never faced in our history as school board members,” wrote Central Region NSBA Director John Halkias in an email.
”However, while I believe the intent was good, unfortunately, instead of helping our members and working to decrease the tensions and hostility that many of us are facing, we seem to have fanned those flames of hostility and division. Rather than helping our cause and calming the waters, this letter has re-awakened hostilities that were just beginning to finally calm down as the things many of us put in place were having a positive effect on student safety, learning, and attendance,” Halkias added.
Garland is expected to form a task force at the federal level to investigate claims of threats of violence against school board members. The task force will be made of officials from the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, the FBI, and other offices.