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Leaders of the US National School Board Association failed to consult their own board and were in touch with the White House before publishing a letter with a call to label unruly parents as “domestic terrorists,” emails reveal.

In a letter to President Joe Biden last month, the NSBA insisted that the classification of parents’ disruptive actions at school board meetings “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” calling on Biden to direct the Justice Department to apply the Patriot Act “in regards to domestic terrorism” wherever possible.

On Thursday, a trove of NSBA emails obtained by Parents Defending Education through a public information request revealed that the president of the association, Viola Garcia, and CEO Chip Slaven had been communicating with the White House for weeks before the final version of the controversial letter was sent out to the media.

First reported by the Washington Free Beacon, the messages revealed that the Biden administration asked for more specific information on supposed “threats” made by disruptive parents during school board meetings, and NSBA’s leaders were happy to oblige.

The emails between the NSBA directors and Garcia also made clear that neither the Board of Directors nor the leaders of the association’s chapters agreed or even knew that the controversial letter to the president was being considered. Many were dismayed in the aftermath of its release, noting that it had inflamed “tensions” that had just begun to settle after a number of heated board meetings.

In the fateful letter, Garcia wrote that educators and school board members face attacks “for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students” as well as physical threats “because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within the classroom instruction.”

Just days after it was published, the US Department of Justice announced on October 4 that a special task force, set to include the FBI and representatives of several other agencies, would address threats against school employees.

Citing “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged to “announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.” Garland wrote that he would deploy the FBI to work with local law enforcement within 30 days of issuing the memo, which vowed to use the Justice Department’s “authority and resources” to “discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate.”  

While the DOJ did not refer to the offending parents as “terrorists,” and Garland later denied claims that the DOJ ever planned to label them as such, the move triggered a firestorm across the country, with some school boards pulling out of the NSBA entirely and others expressing serious misgivings at the decision by the national body to ask the federal law enforcement to intervene into the parent-teacher relationship.

John Halkias, a NSBA director from the Central Region, noted that “many of us have been put in a position now of explaining or defending this action of our association as we are asked by members of our community if we consider them domestic terrorists for showing up to our meetings and expressing their opinions.” Voicing its opposition to the letter, the Iowa Association of School Boards said that it welcomes “full and fair deliberation on public issues.”

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