Pa. school board leaves national association over 'domestic terrorism' claim against protesting parents

People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. "Are you ready to take back our schools?" Republican activist Patti Menders shouted at a rally opposing anti-racism teaching that critics like her say trains white children to see themselves as "oppressors." "Yes!" answered in unison the hundreds of demonstrators gathered this weekend near Washington to fight against "critical race theory," the latest battleground of America's ongoing culture wars. | AFP via Getty Images/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

A group representing school boards in Pennsylvania has ended its relationship with the National School Boards Association in response to the national group sending a letter to President Joe Biden equating harassment against school board members to "domestic terrorism."

The leadership of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, an organization that has existed since 1895 and has approximately 4,500 school directors as members, recently voted unanimously to cut ties with the NSBA.

In a statement provided to The Christian Post via email on Tuesday, the PSBA explained that the group's connections with the NSBA have been "questioned numerous times over the past several years."

"The most recent national controversy surrounding a letter to President Biden suggesting that some parents should be considered domestic terrorists was the final straw," stated the PSBA.

"This misguided approach has made our work and that of many school boards more difficult. It has fomented more disputes and cast partisanship on our work on behalf of school directors, when we seek to find common ground and support all school directors in their work, no matter their politics."

The PSBA added that while it "abhors the fact that some boards have been met with threats and violence," the group believes that "attempting to solve the problems with a call for federal intervention is not the place to begin, nor a model for promoting greater civility and respect for the democratic process."

"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," continued the PSBA.

"We intend to continue to work closely with other state school boards associations and remain hopeful that following this period of substantial tumult for NSBA, we will find a new national organization ready and able to serve all its member states effectively."

In late September, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to Biden expressing concern over an apparent uptick in threats of bodily harm directed at school boards and school officials by parents and others.

In the letter, the NSBA leadership asked for "federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation."

"Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech," explained NSBA President Viola Garcia and Interim Executive Director & CEO Chip Slaven.

"However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs."

The national group specifically expressed concern over protests against face mask mandates for students and claims that critical race theory is being taught at the K-12 level.

"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 NSBA letter reads.

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memorandum to federal law enforcement agencies to discuss with various authorities "strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff."

Echoing the NSBA letter, Garland referenced a "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff."

Critics, including Missouri's Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, denounced the DOJ memo as an effort to silence parents with genuine concerns about the operation of their local schools.

In a statement, Schmitt stated that he believes "Biden's Department of Justice is weaponizing its resources against parents who dare to advocate for their children."

Nicholas Tampio, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, criticized the Garland memorandum that claimed that there has been a "disturbing spike" in the harassment of school staff and a "rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel."

Tampio argued that "there is no evidence of a rise in the memorandum or references to where one could find evidence of it." He also called out the NSBA letter to Biden. 

"If one reads the letter, one finds people clearly raising their voices, which is normal when people are discussing things that matter to them," he wrote. "When parents or community members cross the line into threats, local law enforcement has handled the situation. There is no quantitative data in the letter; instead, there are a bunch of disparate stories strung together to make it look like there is a pattern."

One of the stories cited in the NSBA letter is the arrest of Scott Smith during a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Virginia in June. Smith went to the board meeting to voice his displeasure with a proposed policy that would allow trans-identified students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Smith's 15-year-old daughter is alleged to have been sexually assaulted by a biological male in a girls' bathroom at school.

Smith was arrested during a confrontation with a left-wing activist who attended the meeting and tried to claim that Smith's story was not truthful and vowed to hurt his business by posting online. 

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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