A group representing national school board associations asked President Joe Biden and the federal government on Wednesday to help look into threats against school board members and educators to see if laws were broken regarding bullying, hate crimes, or domestic terror, as anger around masks and critical race theory have boiled over around the country.
“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” said the letter, signed by National School Boards Association President Viola M. Garcia and NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven.
The NSBA requested the resources of the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center “regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses.” They also asked for the help of the US Postal Inspection Service regarding threatening letters and cyberbullying.
“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the school boards association stated in its letter to Biden.
The letter comes after a series of heated school board meetings across the country regarding Covid-19 safety protocols and critical race theory, the oft-misunderstood concept examining the role of institutional racism in American history.
“The greatest number and the biggest concern we have are the threats of violence, the coordinated efforts that we seem to see because of the similarities across the state lines,” Garcia told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
“It gives us pause, great pause, because not only are we charged at the school board level (with) the academic viability of our students but we also are charged with the safety and security not only of the students but of the staff and the community members that come in and out of our buildings.”
In Tennessee, a group opposed to mask requirements in schools heckled and threatened people outside a school board meeting. A school board meeting in Idaho to discuss a temporary mask mandate was canceled due to “security concerns” amid a group of boisterous protesters. In Virginia, a person was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a chaotic school board meeting related to a proposed policy toward transgender students and critical race theory.
A White House spokesman told CNN the Biden administration is “exploring what more can be done across the administration” regarding the NSBA’s request.
“We take the safety and security of public servants and elected officials across the country very seriously,” the spokesman told CNN on Thursday. “While we would refer you to the appropriate law enforcement authorities for questions about any specific threats, we would certainly encourage individuals to report any threats they face to local and state law enforcement agencies.”
In its request, the NSBA cited several news articles involving threats against board members, including a mailed letter addressed to a school board member in Ohio that said “we are coming after you and all the members on the … BoE [Board of Education].” The mailed letter accused the board member of forcing students to wear masks in order to control students, “and for that you will pay dearly.”
The NSBA noted in addition to individual threats groups are posting “watchlists” against school boards.
“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 NSBA wrote to Biden.
In the letter, the NSBA says while school board members want to hear from members of the community, there needs to be basic safety measures in place. And while local jurisdictions have been helping, federal involvement is necessary with regarding monitoring threat levels.
The NSBA states the threats are impacting the desire for school board members to continue in their jobs and their ability to do the work they need to, and also presents “a clear and present danger to civic participation.”
“These threats and acts of violence are affecting our nation’s democracy at the very foundational levels,” the letter said.
This story has been updated to reflect Viola M. Garcia’s comments on CNN’s “New Day.”
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Donald Judd, Eric Levenson and Leyla Santiago contributed to this report.