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By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in Congress blasted a U.S. Justice Department initiative to protect local school board officials from threats of violence by people angry at anti-racism curriculum and masking mandates, with one calling the policy a "snitch line" to report parents.
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing, they assailed Attorney General Merrick Garland about his Oct. 4 memo telling the FBI and federal prosecutors to address, with local law enforcement, a rising number of violent threats directed at members of school boards, fueled by claims that school curricula addressing racism are attacks on America.
"They're going to open up a snitch line on parents. Think about this," said Republican Representative Jim Jordan. He said the Justice Department was "going to go after parents who object to some racist hate America curriculum."
In his testimony Garland rejected the charge, saying the department aimed to prevent violent threats against members of school boards - typically low-profile and sometimes volunteer posts.
"We are only concerned about violence," Garland told lawmakers repeatedly. "The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children."
The National School Boards Association in a Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden urged federal law enforcement to provide assistance to local boards to deal with the threats.
The letter cited a series of incidents, including an arrest during a board meeting in Illinois for aggravated battery and another in which someone shouted a Nazi slogan in Michigan during a meeting to protest the use of masks in schools to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Among the school boards across the country facing the most scrutiny https://www.reuters.com/world/us/partisan-war-over-teaching-history-racism-stokes-tensions-us-schools-2021-06-23 is one in Loudoun County, Virginia, located about an hour's drive from Washington, D.C.
One board member there recently resigned, after months of accusations the school was teaching "critical race theory," an academic doctrine that maintains racism is ingrained in U.S. law and institutions and that legacies of slavery and segregation have created an uneven playing field for Black Americans.
Critics argue there is no evidence the theory, developed in law schools, is being taught in most - if any - primary schools.
Members of the Loudoun County School Board have received thousands of "derogatory and threatening" messages since May, a spokesman said.
A June 23 email used a racist slur against Black Americans, adding: "Not in my school, not with my kids, keep your dirty ... hands away from my kids."
Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin accused Republicans of deliberately misconstruing Garland's memo.
"Not a single member of this committee has recited a single sentence from your memo as violating anyone's rights," Raskin said.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)