At a school board meeting in Illinois, a man was arrested after allegedly striking an education official. At another in Virginia, one man was arrested for making a physical threat, a second was issued a citation for trespassing and a third was injured. And at other meetings in states such as Washington, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Tennessee, school board members have had to adjourn early after being confronted by angry mobs.
Citing those incidents and a host of others, an organization representing tens of thousands of school officials across the United States appealed to President Biden for help dealing with a wave of threats of violence and acts of intimidation. In a letter Wednesday addressed directly to the president, the National School Boards Association said furor directed at education leaders over mask mandates and critical race theory — an academic framework examining the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism — necessitated a response from the federal government.
“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” wrote National School Boards Association President Viola M. Garcia and interim executive director and CEO Chip Slaven.
School board meetings, once sparsely attended, have increasingly become contentious, chaotic and politicized, with scores of videos capturing angry chants, name-calling and occasional scuffles. In some cases, school boards have stepped up security or called in law enforcement for help managing unruly attendees. In others, NPR reported, they have decided to resign.
In the letter to Biden, the National School Boards Association said threats and acts of violence have become more prevalent both inside and outside of meetings, coming by mail, social media and around personal properties. School board members and educators have been threatened for approving mask policies and because of “propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula.”
The organization called for a joint collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate the threats, asking specifically for the involvement of the FBI, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service.
“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 letter said.
Public conversation and transparency from school board members are important, it added, and dialogue should be encouraged among those with differing viewpoints. But the current tenor is disrupting the safety of public school officials and personnel, impacting the educational services offered to students and families.
“These threats and acts of violence are affecting our nation’s democracy at the very foundational levels,” the association said.