White House ‘Actively Engaged’ with NSBA Before ‘Domestic Terrorist’ Letter Sent to Biden

US President Joe Biden speaks to reporters on the South Lawn upon return to the White House in Washington, DC on October 5, 2021. Biden returned to Washington after visiting Michigan. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The White House was already “actively engaged” with top officials of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) prior to the group’s letter to President Joe Biden requesting federal law enforcement explore parents voicing concerns about education issues as possible “domestic terrorists,” Parents Defending Education (PDE) revealed Thursday.

An internal memo from Viola Garcia, NSBA president, dated October 12 and obtained by PDE, provided a timeline of NSBA’s exchange with the White House.

On September 14, the association’s Organization of State Association Executive Directors was informed about a meeting that had taken place with the White House.

Additionally, on September 17, the state association executive directors were notified “a letter requesting federal assistance” would be sent. Garcia wrote:

Focus on the NSBA advocacy and equity efforts continue to be a top priority for the interim executive director. NSBA has been working diligently to provide information and advice to the members on issues related to the pandemic and school building reopening’s while advocating for strong investments in public schools by Congress and the Administration in budget reconciliation and infrastructure negotiations. Concern over the current climate for school board members is also a top priority as disruptions at school board meetings grow and members face growing threats. NSBA has been actively engaged with the White House, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, Surgeon General, and other federal agencies on pandemic related issues.

In the September 14, 2021 meeting of the OSAED liaison group, they were informed there had been a meeting with White House staff that morning and that NSBA was preparing to send a letter to the President, Subsequently, on September 17, 2021, the interim Executive Director emailed notice to the state association executive directors that indicated a letter requesting federal assistance would be sent.

“NSBA is taking a number of actions regarding calling for protection and resources to assist school board members with these threats including a call for the President and federal government for more assistance.”

That notice later stated:

“Further, NSBA has drafted its own individual letter that has been in the planning for several days that will also go out next week. This is a very detailed letter calling attention to the problem and laying out some very specific requests for action. That letter will be shared out with all of you next week when it is sent out so you can share it with your members and also your Congressional Delegations.”

In response to the letter sent by NSBA, on October 4, 2021 the Attorney General announced in a memorandum widely shared throughout the U.S. Department of Justice that he was ordering all U.S. Attorney Offices and local FBI offices to reach out to local and state law enforcement officials to coordinate efforts on this problem within 30 days of the memorandum.

Garland’s memorandum stated:

Citing an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools, today Attorney General Merrick B. Garland directed the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend. These sessions will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response by law enforcement.

The Biden Education Department then announced October 13 it had appointed Garcia to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees which subjects students will be tested on in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

Garland subsequently testified on October 21 at a House Judiciary Committee hearing he took the word of the NSBA officials that parents voicing their concerns at local school board meetings should be investigated as possible “domestic terrorists.”

The attorney general’s reference to NSBA representing “thousands of school boards” stood in stark contrast at the time to the statement of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), which had just announced  it was cutting its ties with NSBA, citing multiple problems with the national association:

[I]t has been a struggle for the board and leadership … to identify a reason to continue to be a part of a federation that is not focused on bipartisanship, civility and seeking solutions to the internal problems that have plagued the national organization for so long.

“From financial and pension issues to a never-ending disagreement on a governance model and definition of membership, the problems at NSBA have only become more and more entrenched despite recurring promises for action,” PSBA said.

Since NSBA wrote its letter to Biden, PDE notes 26 state school boards associations have distanced themselves from NSBA.

Additionally, PDE observed 11 states have taken even further action by entirely cutting ties with NSBA or withdrawing their membership dues.

The NSBA’s own board of directors renounced the letter to Biden sent by Chip Slaven, NSBA’s interim executive director and CEO, and Garcia, writing on October 22 they “regret and apologize” for its content.

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