The national school board group that sparked a nationwide backlash with a letter comparing parents to domestic terrorists was in contact with Biden administration officials before releasing the letter late last month, newly released emails show.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) on Sept. 29 urged President Joe Biden to take action to stop what it described as “threats and acts of violence” against school boards, teachers, and others involved in the public education sphere.
Five days later, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced federal officials would crack down on parents accused of threatening violence or trying to intimidate educators.
The newly disclosed emails (pdf), obtained by Parents Defending Education, show the NSBA was in touch with the White House and others in the administration before the release of the letter.
“In talks over the last several weeks with White House staff, they requested additional information on some of the specific threats,” Chip Slaven, the NSBA’s interim executive director and CEO, wrote in an email to NSBA board members just hours after the letter was released to the public.
“So the letter also details many of the incidents that have been occurring,” he said.
Most of the incidents the board included related to parents vigorously pushing back on controversial teachings or material and not incidents where any laws appeared to be broken.
Several incidents did ultimately lead to arrests at school board meetings, including a father in Loudoun County, Virginia, who was upset his daughter had been raped and school officials allegedly acted to cover it up.
The NSBA has not responded to requests for comment on the letter, the Department of Justice’s order, or the newly released emails.
Viola Garcia, the group’s president, wrote to NBSA directors on Oct. 2, telling them that the association “has been engaged with the White House and the Department of Education on these and other issues related to the pandemic for several weeks now.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment and deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was not asked about the emails during a press briefing on Thursday.
Garland, testifying to Congress in Washington, said he learned about the letter by reading about it in the news and had not been told by the White House to issue the memo. He said he was certain the White House communicated its concerns about the letter to his department and that that would be “perfectly appropriate.”
Garland said he did not himself communicate with the White House, the NSBA, or the two largest teacher’s unions in the country before issuing his memo. He also indicated that the Department of Justice used the NSBA as its source for the claim that there has been a spike in harassment and threats of violence against school officials in recent months.
The letter was signed by Garcia and Slaven and shared with the NSBA’s Board of Directors on Sept. 29, the same day it was sent to Biden and the night before it was released publicly. Some on the board indicated they had not agreed to the language in the letter, which included saying acts of malice, violence, and threats against school officials could be classified as “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
“I agree with many of my colleagues that the Board of Directors should have been consulted before a letter like this was sent out publicly, and no less to the president of the United States and the national press,” John Halkias, one of the directors, told Slaven on Oct. 1.
“I also agree that the letter took a stance that went beyond what many of us would consider to be reasonable and used terms that were extreme, and asked for action by the federal government that many of us would not request,” he said, before adding that the letter had “created a new and renewed firestorm” and had “given our loudest critics more ammunition to criticize us.”
State school boards representing at least 20 states have also said they disagree with the letter. Some have quit or moved to leave the NSBA.