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The National School Boards Association has apologized for a letter that Attorney General Merrick Garland used to target parents as “domestic terrorists.”
“We regret and apologize for the letter,” the NSBA said in a memorandum sent to members on Friday. “To be clear, the safety of school board members, other public school officials and educators, and students is 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.”
The original letter, publicly sent to Biden administration officials after the organization worked with the Biden administration to craft its language, asked the federal government to take action against parents and citizens who “threaten” or “intimidate” school board officials and education administrators. It said nothing of the reports of some school officials engaging in the same behavior against parents.
“NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety,” the original letter read. “… 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.”
As many as 20 state school boards have since distanced themselves from the NSBA in backlash against the letter: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.
Fourteen state school boards, including Pennsylvania’s, said they were not alerted before the NSBA sent the letter. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association voted unanimously last week to exit the NSBA.
“The Pennsylvania School Boards Association was not consulted prior to the letter being sent by the National School Boards Association to President Biden. We were not asked for input nor discussion on its content,” said Annette Stevenson, PSBA’s chief communications officer.
The Georgia School Boards Association said it was “not consulted about this letter, did not provide information to NSBA, and was not informed that the letter was being sent, even though a Georgia school district was used as an example in the letter.” Similarly, the Idaho School Boards Association Executive Board distanced itself from the NSBA’s statement, announcing that, “Had we been asked, we would have readily pointed out the mischaracterization of parents and patrons in our communities as domestic terrorists who merited federal investigation. We want parents and patrons engaged in our public schools — we have sought that for years.”
The NSBA’s initial letter was the basis for Garland’s Oct. 4 announcement that the FBI would investigate what he called “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” He also ordered the bureau to “facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats” between state and local law enforcement.
“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 wrote in a memorandum sent to Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI. “In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
The directive came only five days after the NSBA sent its original letter labeling parents as “domestic terrorists.” When he testified before Congress Thursday, Garland confirmed that the NSBA’s letter was the foundation for his Oct. 4 memorandum.
“Obviously the [school board] letter, which was public and asked for assistance from the Justice Department was brought to our attention” Garland said. “I read about the letter in the news. No one in the White House spoke to me about the memo at all.”
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley called for Garland’s resignation Friday, calling the attorney general’s use of the FBI to monitor school board meetings unprecedented.
“Merrick Garland mobilized the FBI to intimidate parents without legal basis and, we now know, premised on misinformation he didn’t bother to verify,” Hawley said. “It was a dangerous abuse of authority that has badly compromised the Justice Dept’s integrity and Garland’s. He should resign.”
Merrick Garland mobilized the FBI to intimidate parents without legal basis and, we now know, premised on misinformation he didn’t bother to verify. It was a dangerous abuse of authority that has badly compromised the Justice Dept’s integrity and Garland’s. He should resign. https://t.co/MXKN5j0L5g
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 23, 2021
According to emails obtained by Parents Defending Education, the NSBA collaborated with White House officials weeks before drafting the letter. The emails, reported by The Washington Free Beacon on Thursday, show that the White House reviewed the letter before it was released and knew about specific wording referring to parents at school board meetings as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
“A $19 million trade association has nothing on a bunch of mad moms,” Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, said Friday.
At the hearing Thursday, Garland acknowledged his office only started investigating local claims of violence and terrorism after NSBA published its letter. The letter cites no evidence, nor does it explain the categorization of parents as “domestic terrorists.”
House Republicans grilled Garland on his decision to mobilize the FBI against parents.
“It concerns us that [your letter] was issued just five days after the National School Board Association sent a letter to President Biden which referred to concerned parents as the equivalent of ‘domestic terrorists and perpetrators of hate crimes,’” Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson said. “Given the timing of all this, your memo appears to have been motivated by politics more than any pressing law enforcement need. This is concerning to us and it’s worthy of investigation.”
“A snitch line on parents, started five days after a left-wing political organization asked for it,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said. “If that’s not political, I don’t know what is.”