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National School Boards Association likens parents to domestic terrorists, and DOJ reacts. How should parents respond?

National School Boards Association likens parents to domestic terrorists, and DOJ reacts. How should parents respond?

Kaitlyn Shepherd
October 25, 2021

Across the nation, parents are attending local school board meetings and expressing their frustrations regarding COVID-19 mitigation strategies and critical race theory in public schools. Shockingly, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) insinuated that actions by concerned parents like these “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” While NSBA has since apologized for these statements, this does not undo the harm that has been done.

Parent demonstrations in Idaho have been peaceful. In Coeur d’Alene, parents assembled outside the building where the school board planned to discuss a possible mask mandate. They chanted vociferously and carried signs, but Police Captain Dave Hager emphasized that no violence occurred, no injuries were reported, and no arrests were made. He stated, “It was simply a situation with people passionate about their views.”

Jennifer Brumley, former Coeur d’Alene School Board Chair, agreed that no violence occurred. “At the time the meeting was cancelled,” she said, “there were no threats to individuals that I was aware of.”

In Weiser, parents staged a peaceful protest ahead of the Weiser School Board of Trustees meeting to express opposition to mask mandates and the district’s curriculum.

Additionally, a group of parents and teachers in Idaho Falls congregated civilly to voice their opinions about the school district’s reopening plan.

While the vast majority of parent demonstrations have been peaceful, NSBA wrote to President Joe Biden in September that actions by some parents could constitute “a form of domestic terrorism” and asked the President for help in dealing with the “immediate threat” facing school staff.

NSBA requested federal investigations of alleged threats and monitoring assistance for certain jurisdictions. It also asked the Administration to consider taking “enforceable actions” under several federal statutes.

The Biden Administration responded with remarkable speed. In a memorandum issued less than a week after the NSBA letter was sent, Attorney General Merrick Garland cited “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against school staff members. He stated that the DOJ takes potential threats seriously and directed the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to meet with local law enforcement bodies to discuss avenues for identifying and responding to threats.

Resorting to violence is not the solution, but now is not the time to remain silent. Concerned parents must continue attending school board meetings and voicing their concerns in a peaceful and respectful way.

The actions of NSBA and the DOJ show that they will certainly face opposition. 

Public outcry in response to NSBA’s letter and the DOJ’s actions was quick and decisive. 

Lawmakers, authors, scholars, state attorneys general, nonprofit organizations, and parents all spoke out to condemn the mischaracterization of parents and the actions of the Attorney General.

On October 13, the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) published a formal statement in response to the NSBA letter. ISBA sought to distance itself from NSBA’s actions and clarify its “participation — or, lack thereof” in sending the letter to Biden. ISBA insisted that it was not involved in drafting the letter and that it was not informed about NSBA’s letter. ISBA claimed that it would have objected to characterizing parents as “domestic terrorists who merited federal investigation” because it seeks parental involvement in the public school system and values local control on matters of education.

Despite trying to distance itself from the controversial letter, ISBA condemned the “disruptive and — at times, frightening — behavior that has shown up in school board meetings in Idaho and across the country.” The statement alluded to “physical or verbal threats directed against school board members, their staff, and … students,” but it failed to cite any specific instances when Idaho parents resorted to violent behavior.

NSBA has since apologized for its letter, but this does not mitigate the damage that has already been done.

Violence is inexcusable. However, the freedom to assemble is one of the hallmarks of American society. As local government entities, public schools derive their authority from “the consent of the governed” and are intended to be governed by local boards responsive to parental concerns. Rather than characterizing parents as domestic terrorists for acts of peaceful protest, school boards and the organizations representing them should take action to address and resolve parents’ concerns.

As the primary educators of their children, parents should be given agency regarding their family’s education. Parents must demand restoration of their right to raise their children and continue to voice their requests in an informed and respectful manner.

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