A group that represents school boards is asking the Biden administration to review threats and violence against education administrators and schools to determine if they violate the Patriot Act and hate crime laws amid clashes between angry parents and educators over COVID-19 policies and critical race theory being taught in classrooms.
In a Wednesday letter to Biden, the National School Boards Association asked that the federal government examine whether actions can be taken to stop the vitriol and violence using the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Patriot Act, the controversial statute enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The request comes amid a culture war that has prompted some school officials to resign or not seek re-election.
“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,” the letter signed by NSBA President Viola Garcia and Chip Slaven, the group’s interim executive director and CEO, states.
In addition, the NSBA asked for a review of threats and violence under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute, and the Conspiracy Against Rights statute.
In recent months, school districts across the country have seen angry demonstrations and confrontations between parents and education officials at school board meetings. The letter cited anger over school mask directives and critical race theory, which focuses on how power structures and institutions impact racial minorities.
Many opponents have labeled it racist.
Loudoun County, Virginia has become the epicenter of anger against such policies. A group opposed to the teaching of CRT, Free to Learn Coalition, recently launched a $500,000 ad blitz criticizing the local school board. Loudon County administrators and teachers were reportedly blacklisting and doxing parents who spoke out against controversial critical race theory’s use in public school classrooms.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said responsibility for protecting school boards falls largely to local law enforcement but “we’re continuing to explore if more can be done from across the administration.”
“Obviously these threats to school board members is horrible. They’re doing their jobs,” she said during a press briefing.
At a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Thursday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona decried the hostility against school board members and praised their “unwavering support” to reopen schools safely. He said the lack of civility in some meetings is disappointing and, in some places, it has been “very dangerous.”
Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor of Virginia who is running to lead the state again, drew ire this week when he gave his thoughts on how much parents should be involved in making school decisions.
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” he said during a debate against Republican Glenn Youngkin in Alexandria.
The NSBA letter cited numerous news articles and incidents in which threats were made against school board officials and meetings being disrupted. In Michigan, one person yelled a Nazi salute in protest of mask requirements during a meeting and another person angry over CRT prompted the board to call a recess, the letter said.
School board meetings have been disrupted in several states, including California, Florida and Georgia.
In Arizona, three men allegedly threatened to make a citizens arrest of a principal over the school’s COVID-19 measures.
“These threats or actual acts of violence against our school districts are impacting the delivery of educational services to students and families,” Garcia and Slaven wrote.
In addition to the Patriot Act and Gun-Free School Zones Act, the NSBA also asked the U.S. Postal Service to intervene against threatening letters and cyberbullying against students, teachers, board members and other educators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.