Multiple state school boards are rejecting assistance from federal law enforcement in investigations into alleged harassment of teachers, school staff or school board members after Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo announcing the Federal Bureau of Investigations would get involved in ongoing disputes between parents and school boards.
The decisions by Virginia and Louisiana come one week after Garland announced the FBI would be leading in investigations and response to what he called “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
“Those citizens who serve on Virginia’s local school boards deserve our thanks,” the Virginia School Boards Association said. “There is no justification for physical or verbal threats directed against them, their staff and certainly not the students.”
“Nor is there any excuse for disrupting a public meeting. When such unfortunate events occur, the local officials, working with local law enforcement, must deal with the situation appropriately.”
“While we look for support to our state and federal governments, we do not seek the involvement of federal law enforcement or other officials in local decisions,” the association added.
Garland’s order followed a letter from the National School Board Association that asked the Biden administration for assistance, suggesting that there have been threats and acts of violence and equating them to “domestic terrorism.”
Both the VSBA and Louisiana School Board Association said they were not consulted in the NSBA’s decision to send the letter.
As a result, the LSBA is considering whether it will remain a part of the national association, saying its action “fails to align with the standards of good governance.”
“The LSBA does not agree with NSBA’s action. Our concern is that NSBA’s request and description of events is not a universal occurrence at all school boards, it fails to align with the standards of good governance, and it discourages active participation in the governance process,” the organization wrote.
“The NSBA’s request represents a huge step backwards in the collective advocacy efforts carried out by LSBA and other state associations in protecting and preserving openness, transparency, and local autonomy.”
In the Oct. 4 memo, Garland announced that while “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats or violence or efforts to intimate individuals based on their views.”
The investigation will be looking at the recent spike in acts of violence against school staff members, though Garland’s memo did not specify what those acts were.
Parents and politicians immediately criticized the order, accusing the attorney general of targeting parents who have voiced their concerns over mask mandates in schools or the implementation of critical race theory in curriculums.
The state school board’s decision also comes amid reports that a left-wing education company founded by Garland’s son-in-law, Xan Tanner, has recommended teachers read a book featuring an essay written by Bill Ayers, a former designated domestic terror group leader, according to the Washington Examiner.
Last week, the company, Panorama Education, shared on social media 11 books that educators could read to “enhance your own social-emotional learning.”
Included on the list was “Teaching When the World is on Fire,” a 2019 collection of essays. The first essay in the collection is written by Ayers, who helped lead the Weather Underground. The editor of the collection, Lisa Delpit, an education activist, called the essay a “masterful ode to teaching when the world is on fire.”
The essay puts a focus on race, telling teachers that the system they are joining “hates Black and Brown and poor kids … I have facial evidence that the system is organized to miseducate these children, and it includes the shameful lack of resources, enforced racial segregation, the dumbed-down and Eurocentric curriculum accompanied by a stifling top-down pedagogy, and arcane rules and routines that result predictably in social shaming and widespread exclusions.”
The Weather Underground is an FBI-designated domestic terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings, including the bombing of the US Senate in 1971.
Some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether Garland has a conflict of interest due to his son-in-law’s involvement in pushing such curricula.
“On September 29, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to the Biden administration raising complaints about parents’ protests at school board meetings,” US Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote.
“Then, less than a week later, you issued the memorandum, which will benefit companies like Panorama, whose contracts may be in jeopardy as parents stand up to school boards and demand that their children not be indoctrinated with critical race theory.”
“According to the Department of Justice’s (‘DOJ’) Conflict of Interest Policy, ‘An employee may not participate, without authorization, in a particular matter having specific parties that could affect the financial interests of members of her household.’ This policy is to prevent both actual conflicts of interests, as well as the appearance of a conflict of interest,” they added, claiming Garland’s son-in-law may directly benefit from the memorandum.