The United States Department of Justice has responded to a request from Alexandria-based National School Boards Association to address what the association calls a “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation” against school boards across the United States.
On September 29, the NSBA sent a request to the DOJ to intervene against “individuals or hate groups” targeting schools and educators. Five days after the NSBA’s request was sent, the DOJ announced it would be addressing a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence,” against school district officials and employees, drawing praise from the Association and ire from local protest groups and national conservative media, and spurring additional public protest at school board meetings.
“Dear Mr. President: America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” began the letter from the National School Boards Association, which represents more than 90,000 school board members across 14,000 public school districts.
The letter pointed to resistance to masking policies and fear of Critical Race Theory (a set of academic theories focused on structural racism, and a frequent flashpoint for conservative activists) as the cause behind “extremist hate organizations” appearing at school boarding meetings.
“Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula,” the NBSA stated, comparing the “acts of malice, violence, and threats” to “domestic terrorism” or “hate crimes.”
Among cases of alleged threatening behavior in more than a dozen other states, the letter cited recent incidents in Northern Virginia schools–including the arrest of a man at a Loudoun County Public School board meeting after unrest in response to the school’s policies regarding transgender students–as evidence for the need of intervention.
The United States Department of Justice subsequently announced it would direct the United States FBI to meet with local leaders across the U.S. to strategize on how to address threats, including “threat reporting, assessment, and response.”
“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,” the statement from Attorney General Merrick Garland read.
The response from Northern Virginia protest groups has rapidly grown in volume in the days since, amplified by conservative media outlets, and the “domestic terrorist” comparison used by the NSBA has been taken up as an ironic rallying cry. On Thursday, October 8, Fairfax County parents entered a school board meeting wearing “Parents Are Not Domestic Terrorists” t-shirts, while protesting critical race theory and LGBTQ literature.
Chip Slaven, interim executive director and CEO of the NSBA, expressed his support for Garland’s action.
“The U.S. Department of Justice’s swift action in response to NSBA’s request is a strong message to individuals with violent intent,” Slaven said in a statement, noting that acts such as death threats to school board members have led to disruptions like school lockdowns in the past. “The individuals who are intent on causing chaos and disrupting our schools—many of whom are not even connected to local schools—are drowning out the voices of parents who must be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety.”
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