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During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland confirmed that he will not dissolve the task force he formed to investigate threats leveled by parents against school-board members, despite the National School Board Association apologizing for the letter which Garland has said served as the predicate for the task force’s formation.
When asked about the task force by ranking Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, Garland suggested that the body is still necessary even though the NSBA backtracked on its original request for federal intervention to probe and potentially prosecute parents found guilty of threatening school administrators. In its apology statement released last week, the organization also reversed its characterization of parent protests at school board meetings as “domestic terrorism.”
“On behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for this letter. . . . There was no justification for some of the language included in this letter,” it read.
The NSBA’s about-face came after state school board chapters across the country distanced themselves or formally disassociated from the national group, which they said failed to consult them before issuing a memo they would have refused to endorse.
In defense of his decision to keep the task force, Garland said the NSBA letter wasn’t the only predicate for DOJ action, citing “news reports” detailing threats against school board members that he suggested justified intervention.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton rebuked this idea, however, referencing the Loudoun County student sexual assault report published by the Daily Wire revealing that the parent of a female victim was silenced by the school board and subsequently arrested for protesting the incident at a meeting.
“‘This is shameful,” Cotton said. “Thank God you’re not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace.”
At least 19 state school board groups told non-profit Parents Defending Education that they disagreed with the messaging of the NSBA letter branding parent demonstrations as possible “hate crimes” and with the plea for federal intervention, which they argued infringed upon the constitutional authority of local school boards to manage their own public-school systems. In addition, the groups said the NSBA neither consulted nor informed them of its intention to send a letter to President Biden.
As of Tuesday, the Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Louisiana state school board groups have severed their relationship with the national organization in response to its letter and the DOJ’s memo.
In its letter to the NSBA, the Ohio group wrote that its departure “is a direct result of the letter sent by you to President Joe Biden late last month.”
“The NSBA demonstrated just how out of touch the national association is with the concerns of local school boards and the principle of local control,” it added.
During the hearing, Republican Senator Ben Sasse questioned why Garland would not disavow his memo when so many state school board associations have rejected it as well as cut ties with the national group. He accused Garland of launching a campaign against parents to politicize the DOJ.
“Why did the Ohio school board association disassociate from the National School Board Association?,” Sasse asked.
“I don’t know,” Garland replied. “Because this was political hackery,” Sasse shot back. The senator reiterated that while legitimate threats should not be condoned or dismissed, “local law enforcement is more than able to handle one idiot or twelve idiots at local school board meetings.”
“But you have made it a federal issue and I have no idea why,” Sasse added. He then demanded that Garland report back to the House Judiciary Committee to share the findings of the task force’s assessment to elucidate for Congress “how big of a threat parents really pose.”