Following a Department of Justice announcement Monday that it would direct the FBI to mobilize against parents who allegedly threaten teachers and school board members, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised that the state would defend parents amid GOP outcry against the move.
“Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation,” DeSantis wrote. “Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.”
The Justice Department stated that it would create a task force to see how the federal government can be used to prosecute any criminal conduct toward teachers or how to assist state and local authorities investigate such threats. It came after a national association of school boards asked the Biden administration to use “extraordinary measures” to prevent alleged threats against school board staff, accusing parents who oppose teaching critical race theory and mask mandates of lodging them.
DeSantis’s office on Tuesday released a statement saying Florida law already prohibits harassment of teachers, while adding that Florida law enforcement is “perfectly capable of responding to crimes in Florida, and we have never heard the FBI suggest otherwise.”
“However, disagreement is not harassment. Protest is not terrorism, unless it involves rioting, looting, and assault, like some of the left-wing protests of summer 2020. Again, all of those actions are crimes in Florida and will be prosecuted, regardless of political context,” the statement added.
According to the Justice Department, it will create a task force to determine how to use federal resources to prosecute offending parents along with how to provide advice to states where no federal laws have been broken. Training will also be provided to school staff members on how to report threats from parents.
During school board meetings across the United States over the past several months, heated discussions have been held by parents, teachers, and school board staff on whether critical race theory or associated ideologies should be taught to children. The Department of Justice’s announcement did not elaborate on whether threats against teachers and staff are widespread.
This week, Republican lawmakers sharply criticized the Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s directive, arguing the Biden administration is attempting to silence dissent.
“Your memorandum is a politically-motivated abuse of power and displays a lack of reasoned, sound judgment … confronting parents to oppose the views of the Biden administration and its socialist agenda,” wrote Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) in a letter to the agency.
“Parents are speaking out against Critical Race Theory in schools. Now the Biden administration is cracking down on dissent,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter.