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What has the NSBA asked from the Federal government

What has the NSBA asked from the Federal government
Photo by Tobias Tullius / Unsplash

It's been a few weeks (again) since the Report has been able to produce any meaningful content. A lot has happened. I will detail the issues that got in the way of quicker reporting in another article, but I wanted to make sure and get this news out to anyone who might not have already heard about it because it seems like something that could apply to our situation here in Jefferson County. You can read the official response from Attorney General Garland on the Justice Department website.

Understanding what is happening requires a little bit of detail up front. On September 29th, the National School Board Association sent a letter to Joe Biden requesting federal resources to investigate threats being made against school administrators and board members. The reason for these threats, the letter goes on to say, is that a number of parents and local citizens are unhappy about mask mandates and critical race theory being foisted upon the kids in spite of a lot of public push back on both issues. We have seen both of these issues touch us here. I reported on the Black Math Genius situation over the summer, and just about a month ago we saw contention between our Board of Health and the Board of Education over mask mandates. In both cases, the voices of the people seem to have gone largely unheard. We've seen Board Meetings updated to online only to avoid confrontation with protesting parents. Whatever is happening throughout the nation seems to be happening here. We should be paying attention. For this reason I want to take some time to go over some key points of the letter and it's reply from the Attorney General and make sure we all understand the implications from all sides.

For the record, I do not know whether or not our Board of Education supports this move from the NSBA or even if they are affiliated with them. I have requested some information, but I have no idea what their position is. This report is more just a review of what has been stated, what's been asked of the federal government, and what the federal government has committed to, and what all that could mean for the future of free expression and the right to voice our grievances to the government in the form of protest. Let's first go over the letter to Joe Biden from the NSBA. Keep in mind that these are not elected officials, but they purport to be speaking on behalf of the school boards, many of which (including ours) are elected to their positions.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is a federation of state associations and the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands that represent locally elected school board officials serving approximately 51 million public school students regardless of their disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status or citizenship. Working with and through our state association members, NSBA advocates for equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. – NBSA About Us

This is like a federation of unions for publicly elected boards as far as I can tell. They have no authority, and they do not participate in general board meetings regularly as far as I can tell. Just remember that as we go through the letter. I am going to start with just the first sentence before going into more depth because it deserves an immediate analysis.

America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat.

Has anyone heard of any actual violence happening at a school board anywhere in the country? I have not. I have seen reports of communities calling for the recall of School Board members for decisions they've made which the people believe may be damaging the community they serve.

While in the past, recalls have stemmed from “disputes over mismanagement, open meeting violations or allegations of corruption,” this year’s recalls “focus on efforts to snuff out teachings on critical race theory and displeasure about mask requirements.” – Breitbart

What's interesting is that according to Axios, this trend is most prevalent in California, a state many of us think of as being in favor of the overreach of the federal government. I think it's also happening in Loudoun County which isn't far from home. According to WUSA9 (a CBS affiliate) board members did receive death threats over there. The details of those death threats is not detailed in the article, and my goal here is not to demean anyone's experience. I am however concerned that this is an easy path to allowing federal infringements of state and local rights over what seems like it should be a purely local issue.

NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety.

This is where things start to get interesting. The first line of the second paragraph sets up the reasoning for why the NSBA sees this as an issue which is deserving of federal attention. By including the words "interstate commerce" they believe this grants federal jurisdiction. It's an interesting tactic. How exactly is anything related to the Board of Education affecting interstate commerce you ask? I believe the argument can be made from two angles. The first and most obvious is that the boards of education around the country are deeply reliant on software as a service (SaaS) which uses the internet to connect them to resources stored out of state. The second and perhaps not quite as obvious is that people are holding online discussions to organize protests and contact members of the boards of education. This is also interstate commerce.

If ever there were an economic activity that met the definition of interstate commerce, however, it is the internet. Congress has the constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce. – American Enterprise Institute

Now this is not an area directly under Joe Biden's authority as it seems to be clearly assigned to the Congress, so it's interesting they decided this was the best way to argue jurisdiction. The next part that I found especially interesting is where they argue that the parents are simply falling for propaganda and their concerns are entirely unfounded.

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.

Now it is very likely true that across the nation they aren't teaching children courses on critical race theory using college level terminology. But we all know that there has been a drastic shift in the material being presented in schools over several years, but it seems like that is being accelerated as of late. As I mentioned earlier, here in Jefferson County we had a lot of public discussion about the inclusion of a racially divisive math program. After all of the public comment it seems that program was approved to be added to the curriculum with nothing but a name change.

During Monday evening’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting, held via Zoom only, following the announcement of a protest rally against Critical Race Theory at the board office, members of the board approved the renaming of the controversial summer program titled “Black Math Genius.” – The Shepherdstown Chronicle

So while they aren't using the acronym CRT to describe to the students the philosophy they are implementing in schools across the country, they do actually appear to be implementing a philosophy that seems very reminiscent of Critical Race Theory. We'll assume that parents aren't all idiots for a minute and they can discern for themselves whether or not what is being taught in school aligns with the understood course material we all send our kids to school to learn.

In addition, we applaud your actions to restore resources to school districts that have not yet received their education stabilization funding through the Project SAFE (Supporting America’s Families and Educators) grant program for coronavirus recovery efforts, including the use of face masks and other precautions to help prevent COVID-19 infections among students and educators. Now, we ask that the federal government investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against our public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our children and educators, to protect interstate commerce, and to preserve public school infrastructure and campuses.

It's at this point where we get to see how the sausage is made. If you were curious as to why the school board went against the recommendations of the health board when it came to mask mandates, Project SAFE is one of probably dozens of programs which are used by the federal government to "incentivize" desired behaviors. It doesn't appear that this particular program has been used here, but you can see for yourself how these kinds of programs work.

The Project to Support America’s Families and Educators (Project SAFE) grant program is intended to improve students’ safety and well-being by providing funding to local educational agencies (LEAs) that adopt and implement strategies to prevent the spread of the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and that are financially penalized for doing so by their State educational agency (SEA) or other State entity. – Office of Elementary & Secondary Education

Immediately after the NSBA thanks the federal government for their coercive tactics with regard to mask mandates, they turn their attention to requesting federal intelligence and law enforcement assistance. This is where things start to get kind of dark in my opinion, especially with the inclusion of the open ended "other extraordinary measures". Another mention is made of interstate commerce, and of course the safety of the children is put into question. This is just classic. These are parents who are disappointed in the direction the schools around the country are taking, and they are using their own kids as a weapon against them.

The letter goes on to say that local law enforcement is doing what they can, but some areas are lacking in their ability to "monitor threat levels" which I imagine justifies in their eyes the use of the intelligence apparatus to handle this monitoring. Since some of the threats were transmitted via the Postal Service and other interstate jurisdictions, "NSBA respectfully asks that a joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and with public school officials be undertaken to focus on these threats." They go on to list the agencies they think would be best suited to help them with this immediate and extraordinary threat.

NSBA specifically solicits the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public school children, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses. We also request the assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intervene against threatening letters and cyberbullying attacks that have been transmitted to students, school board members, district administrators, and other educators.

The letter then continues to suggest that the torment these boards of education are under might be equivalent to domestic terrorism. "Additionally, NSBA requests that such review examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism". The PATRIOT Act is a very big act that strips certain protected rights from targets of investigation. It's actually not constitutional as far as I can tell, although like most of Congress I haven't read it in entirety. It allows for secret courts, gag orders, and indefinite detention without official charges among other things. NSBA also suggests the federal government investigate using "the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute, the Conspiracy Against Rights statute, an Executive Order to enforce all applicable federal laws for the protection of students and public school district personnel, and any related measure."

The rest of the letter covers 20 incidents they feel provide evidence of this dire need for federal assistance. As I was reading over this I realized that one of the first incidents is improperly characterized.

During two separate school board meetings in Michigan , an individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements, and another individual prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory.

Now I remember this guy, and what's amusing is that he was actually hailing Dr Fauci ironically. He was not yelling a "Nazi salute". He was saying they were behaving like Nazis. Was he as articulate as he could be? Maybe not. Was he articulate enough to get his point across? Absolutely. This mis-characterization is indication that they don't have much confidence in the rest of their evidence so let's continue.

In Ohio, an individual mailed a letter to a school board member labeling the return address on the envelope from a local neighborhood association and then enclosing threatening hate mail from another entity. This correspondence states that, “We are coming after you and all the members on the … BoE [Board of Education].” This hate mail continues by stating, “You are forcing them to wear mask—for no reason in this world other than control. And for that you will pay dearly.” Among other incendiaries, this same threat also calls the school board member a “filthy traitor,” implies loss of pension funds, and labels the school board as Marxist.

Ok so the bit about "coming after you" taken with what little context was provided here we'll have to assume this may qualify as an actual threat. However it's also possible the author was talking about replacing the board in the next election. Remember, there is a large uptick in recall attempts. Calling people names may not be polite, but it's certainly not illegal. Let's not conflate anger and discontent with terrorism. In the same paragraph the argument is made that this is a direct threat to democracy itself. A tired trope.

NSBA believes public discussions and transparency by local school board members are important for the safe and effective operations of schools. It is vital that public discourses be encouraged in a safe and open environment, in which varying viewpoints can be offered in a peaceful manner. Our children are watching the examples of the current debates and we must encourage a positive dialogue even with different opinions. However, with such acute threats and actions that are disruptive to our students’ well-being, to the safety of public school officials and personnel, and to interstate commerce, we urge the federal government’s intervention against individuals or hate groups who are targeting our schools and educators.

I actually agree with the first half of this paragraph. I don't know if we're getting anywhere letting our emotions control our speech. Some videos have emerged of very articulate arguments being made, but in general the cases which they are referencing seem to be largely emotional situations which is totally understandable. We need to be able to show the children that we can solve these issues using our speech responsibly. That also means that our elected officials need to accept feedback and criticism, and when the people whom they are meant to represent inform them they are not working in alignment with their wishes, a course correction is necessary.

Instead we're seeing a hardening of the lines of division that were cast over the past few years. This letter prompted a fairly quick response from the Biden administration. On Monday, October 4th, The following memorandum was released by the Justice Department.

In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views. Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation's core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.

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. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.

Coordination and partnership with local law enforcement is critical to implementing these measures for the benefit of our nation's nearly 14,000 public school districts. To this end, I am directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of this memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.

The Department is steadfast in its commitment to protect all people in the United States from violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation arid harassment.

Based on this document it seems the claims by NSBA have been accepted as credible by the Attorney General, and significant federal resources will be directed into the interior to sniff out potential terrorists at PTA meetings. How this is something that can't be managed by local law enforcement is beyond me. I am not saying that no laws have been broken, but we're talking about upset parents being potentially jailed for voicing concern. Our nation is built on top of fundamental human rights. One of the most critical of those rights is the freedom to air our grievances with the government. The don't know which resources or statutes will be used, but I imagine the NSBA provided enough "evidence" to leverage all of the statutes and laws they recommended be used. This means that US citizens might be treated like terrorists. It's not hyperbolic to say that we have plenty of evidence that our government has engaged in questionable tactics in their apprehension, interrogation, and trial of people they've suspected to be terrorists. I would hope they would show some restraint when dealing with citizens, but even looking at how January 6th protesters have been treated doesn't instill us with confidence.

This seems like a highly political move to help ensure a strong position moving into the election period where many of these board members may be up for re-election. I know that seems cynical, but until someone can explain why this can't be handled at a local level I am going to remain skeptical of the motives of this group. I'd love to be proven wrong, but in the meantime, I hope the parents of Jefferson County are being careful with their language at protests and board meetings. I haven't seen anything that suggests otherwise, but I know a lot happens that I don't see. I have put some questions out to the Board of Education and I am investigating the financing of the NBSA. I will keep everyone apprised as I get more information.

UPDATE: Continue to read about this story as it develops.

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Jamie Larson