AG Merrick Garland refuses to retract controversial school board memo

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AG Merrick Garland refuses to retract controversial school board memo

Attorney General Merrick Garland is refusing to retract his controversial memo issued earlier this month, which announced that federal law enforcement would be involved in investigations pertaining to parents protesting local school boards.

During a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pressed Garland on the memo, saying local school officials and parents would no longer speak up during school board meetings “out of fear” following the memo.

Grassley, the ranking member of the committee, noted that Garland’s memo followed a request by the National School Boards Association, which asked the federal government to get involved, comparing alleged threats of violence to “domestic terrorism.”

Last week, Grassley noted, the NSBA board of directors “disavowed” the letter, saying “we regret and apologize for the letter” that was co-signed by association CEO Chip Slaven and president Viola Garcia.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that he will not retract the memo that mobilized the FBI against school parents, inciting angry protests.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he will not retract the memo that mobilized the FBI against school parents, inciting angry protests.
TASOS KATOPODIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“To be clear, the safety of school board members, other public school officials, and students is our top priority, and there remains important work to be done on this issue,” the board wrote. “However, there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”

“So last week, the organization disavowed it, sent you and the White House, based your memo on this delegitimize letter. I assume you’re going to revoke your extremely divisive memo that you said was instigated because of that letter. That’s a question,” Grassley said to Garland. 

“Senator, the memo — which I refer to as one page — that responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct,” Garland responded. “That’s all it’s about and all it asks is for federal law enforcement to consult with, meet with local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary to provide federal assistance if it is necessary.” 

Attorney General Merrick Garland acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board disavowing the need for the FBI but noted they can still voice concern about the safety.
Attorney General Merrick Garland acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board disavowing the need for the FBI but noted they can still voice concern about the safety.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting.
Angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Grassley pressed further, saying, “Presumably, you wrote the memo because of the letter. The letter is disavowed now, so you’re going to keep your memo going anyway, right? Is that what you’re telling me?”

Garland did not directly answer Grassley’s question but acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board. He noted that while the board apologized for the language, they can still voice concern about the safety of school board officials and school staff. 

“The language in the letter that they disavow is language was never included in my memo and never would have been. I did not adopt every concern that they had in their letter. I thought that only the concern about violence and threats of violence that hasn’t changed,” Garland said. 

Shelley Slebrch and other angry parents and community members protest over the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
Shelley Slebrch and other angry parents and community members protest the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) also pressed the attorney general on why he has not rescinded or apologized for the memo given the NSBA’s board’s apology. 

“You did not apologize for your memorandum of October the 4th even though the National School Boards Association did, why didn’t you rescind that memorandum and apologize for your memorandum or responsibility of the Justice Department?” Cornyn asked.

Garland again did not directly respond to the senator’s question, saying, “As I said in my opening, [the memo] is protecting Americans from violence and threats of violence.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks with Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks with Committee Chairman Dick Durbin as he arrives to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP

The memo in question, issued earlier this month, announced the federal investigation of “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” 

Garland’s memo did not detail what the “threats of violence” were, but many parents and Republican politicians have accused him of targeting parents for speaking out against the implementation of mask mandates and critical race theory in K-12 schools.

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