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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Garland says officials will target school board threats

by Gary Fields

WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General Merrick Garland asked federal officials Monday to conduct strategy sessions with law enforcement over the next 30 days to deal with the growing threats targeting school board members, teachers and other staff in the nation’s public schools. instructed.

In a memo, Garland noted that “there is a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff participating in the vital task of running our nation’s public schools.” “

To address the growing problem, Garland said the FBI would work with U.S. attorneys in each district and federal, state, local, regional and tribal officials to develop strategies against threats.

“Although spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, this protection does not extend to threats of violence or attempts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” he said.

The action is in response to an urgent request from the National School Boards Association last week. The group, which represents school board members nationwide, asked President Joe Biden for federal aid to investigate threats made over policies including masked mandates and liken vitriol to domestic terrorism. .

The association called on the federal government to investigate cases where intimidation or violence could be handled as a violation of federal laws protecting civil rights. It also asked the Justice Department, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Service to monitor threat levels and help assess risks to students, teachers, board members and school buildings.

The group’s letter documented more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states. It cited the September arrest of an Illinois man for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly killing a school officer at a meeting. In Michigan, a meeting was disrupted when a man gave a Nazi salute to protest masking.

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“We are following you,” said the group in a letter sent to a member of the Ohio School Board. “You are forcing them to wear masks – for no other reason than to be out of control in this world. And for that you have to pay dearly.” It called the member “a filthy traitor.”

In making the announcement, Garland said the Department of Justice would use its authority and resources to discourage threats and “prosecute them when appropriate. In the coming days, the department will continue to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.” will announce a series of measures designed to

School board members are largely unpaid volunteers, parents and former teachers who go on to shape school policy, select a superintendent and review budgets, but they are horrified that How his job has suddenly become a culture battleground. The climate has led a growing number of people to decide against resigning or seeking re-election.

In a statement, NSBA Interim Executive Director and CEO, Chip Slaven, praised the Justice Department’s prompt action and pointed to the harmful impact of threats of violence and intimidation on the education system.

“Over the past few weeks, school board members and other education leaders have received death threats and have been subjected to threats and harassment online and in person,” Slaven said. The department’s action “has a strong message for individuals with violent intent, focusing on creating chaos, disrupting our public schools, and driving between school boards and parents, students, and the communities they serve.” are.”

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