The U.S. Department of Justice is facing immense pushback for suggesting that parents opposing the teaching of controversial curriculum in public schools are akin to domestic terrorists.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memorandum to federal law enforcement agencies “directing the Federal Bureau of Investigations, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders within 30 days” to “facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
The memo cites a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff” as the justification for a federal response.
However, many have noted that it's the parents who've often been harassed and intimidated.
Loudoun County school board member Beth Barts, for example, was censured for attacking parents and was subsequently recalled. An investigation found that she plotted to go after outspoken parents she disagreed with by encouraging people in a Facebook group to “hack” the parents, which led to her being stripped of her committee duties, The Daily Wire reported.
Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, alleged a more sinister motive behind the DOJ's memorandum. He warned that Garland “has instructed the FBI to mobilize against parents who oppose critical race theory in public schools, citing ‘threats.’” The memo’s publication comes as frustrated parents and community members have confronted their local school boards over allowing critical race theory as well as sexually explicit material to be taught to children.
“Neither the Attorney General’s memo nor the full Justice Department press release cites any significant, credible threat,” Rufo said in a Tweet. “This is a blatant suppression tactic, designed to dissuade citizens from participating in the democratic process at school boards.”
On Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent a letter to Garland condemning the DOJ’s actions that could silence parents who want to have a voice in their children’s education.
“Biden’s Department of Justice is weaponizing its resources against parents who dare to advocate for their children. This dangerous federal overreach imposes a chilling effect on free speech by criminalizing dissent. I will always advocate for parents and will continue to push back against unprecedented federal overreach,” Schmitt said in a press release accompanying his letter to Garland.
Garland’s memorandum comes five days after the National School Boards Association wrote a letter to President Joe Biden requesting “federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against public schoolchildren, public school board members, and other public school district officials and educators.”
The letter warned that “threats and acts of violence have become more prevalent — during public school board meetings, via documented threats transmitted through the U.S. Postal Service, through social media and other online platforms, and around personal properties.”
“NSBA respectfully asks that a joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and with public school officials be undertaken to focus on these threats. NSBA specifically solicits the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses.”
After asserting that “the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the NSBA called on federal law enforcement to use “the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute, [and] the Conspiracy Against Rights statute” to take action against those who threaten school officials.
Examples of problematic actions against school officials listed in the letter included the disruption of school board meetings “because of local directives for mask coverings to protect students and educators from COVID-19,” the incitement of “chaos” at school board meetings by “anti-mask proponents,” the confrontation of school board members by “angry mobs” that have caused boards to “end meetings abruptly” and a resident of Alabama calling himself the “vaccine police” who has “called school administrators while filming himself on Facebook Live.”
A letter to a school board member vowing to “come after you and all the members on the … BoE” was labeled “hate mail.” Additionally, the letter stressed that school board members will “pay dearly” for forcing students to wear masks, called the school board member a “filthy traitor” and slammed the school board as “Marxist.”
The fact that “a student in Tennessee was mocked during a board meeting for advocating masks in schools after testifying that his grandmother, who was an educator, died because of COVID-19” was also classified as an example of “threats and acts of violence” that “are affecting our nation’s democracy at the very foundational levels.”
The NSBA repeatedly denied the accusation that public school districts are teaching critical race theory, which it characterized as “a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.” It described the idea that “boards are adopting critical race theory curriculum” as “misinformation.”
Both the Department of Justice and the NSBA attempted to distinguish between peaceful protest and acts of violence. The DOJ memo emphasized that “while spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or attempt to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
The NSBA letter maintained that “it is vital that public discourses be encouraged in a safe and open environment, in which varying viewpoints can be offered in a peaceful manner” while lambasting “acute threats and actions that are disruptive to our students’ well-being, to the safety of public school officials and personnel, and to interstate commerce.” The DOJ memo and the NSBA letter are not the only responses to parental concerns about public education that are drawing criticism.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat seeking a non-consecutive second term in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election, shared his thoughts on parents confronting school boards at a debate with his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions.”
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” he added.
When asked if parents should be the “primary stakeholder” in their children’s education, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona did not answer the question directly. He responded by saying, “I believe parents are important stakeholders but I also believe educators have a role in … determining educational programming.”
In recent weeks, parents have voiced their concerns about the material their children have been exposed to in school directly with their school boards. Last month, the parent of a student in Fairfax County, Virginia, read excerpts of two sexually explicit books featuring graphic imagery that are available in the district’s high school libraries to the school board.
The outrage over sexually explicit material used in public schools is not limited to parents. The mayor of Hudson, Ohio, chastised the school board of the Hudson City School District at a board meeting last month, calling on them to resign or face criminal charges for allowing a college-level English class to include a book asking students to write sexually explicit writing prompts as part of its curriculum.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org