Education

Ray Carter | October 11, 2021

Oklahoma parents: School-board criticism is not ‘terrorism’

Oklahoma parents are pushing back against the National School Boards Association’s call for federal officials to investigate protesters at school-board meetings under anti-terrorism law.

“Engaging your local school board is a civic right—not a hate crime!” wrote officials with Parent Voice Oklahoma, which works to elevate the role of parents in school decisions across the state.

Parent Voice’s public statement comes following a Sept. 29 National School Boards Association (NSBA) letter sent to President Joe Biden. In that letter, NSBA leaders claimed there are ongoing “attacks against school board members and educators” over school mask mandates and that “many public school officials are also facing physical threats” related to community concerns over inclusion of Critical Race Theory into classroom instruction.

NSBA officials asked for 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 to investigate citizens involved with those alleged threats and declared that some parent protests “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” As a result, NSBA requested that federal officials investigate protestors under federal anti-terrorism and hate-crimes laws.

The NSBA letter included no specific examples of organized terrorism and many examples noted in the letter amounted to little more than verbal altercations or citizens shouting during public meetings.

In an Oct. 4 memorandum, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee, declared that there has been “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” and announced that he was ordering the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to meet with state and local officials to develop “strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

The Garland memo cited no specific incidents of protests that could be prosecuted as federal crimes.

Parents argue the NSBA letter and Garland’s response are efforts to stymie free speech and public debate.

“We don’t condone violence or threats of violence,” the Parent Voice Oklahoma statement declared. “This, however, is not about violence ... it is about silencing critics and depriving parents of the power they should have over their own children’s education. If you oppose mandatory masking for young children, the NSBA is now willing to denounce you as a potentially violent extremist. If you oppose critical race theory, the NSBA labels you a propagandist. And now, the Department of Justice and Joe Biden are willing to use the criminal justice system to further intimidate and bully parents.

“This is not right,” the statement continued.

In addition to rejecting the NSBA’s characterization of parental protests at school board meetings, the Parent Voice statement also called on Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) Executive Director Shawn Hime “to denounce the NSBA’s characterization of parents as extremists.”

A group of state lawmakers has also called on Hime and OSSBA officials to denounce the NSBA’s actions.

Hime’s bio notes that he “previously served as chair of the National School Boards Association’s Organization of State Association Executive Directors and as a member of NSBA’s Board of Directors,” and the OSSBA website includes the NSBA Equity Symposium West, which was scheduled in Oklahoma City starting Oct. 22, on its public calendar of workshops for OSSBA members, although it currently states that the symposium has been cancelled.

So far, Hime has not publicly responded to either request and OSSBA officials have not responded to a separate request for comment.

The NSBA attack has drawn fire from parental groups nationwide. In a joint letter to NSBA leaders issued by more than 20 parent groups, officials stated, “NSBA cites a tiny number of minor incidents in order to insinuate that parents who are criticizing and protesting the decisions of school boards are engaging in, or may be engaging in, ‘domestic terrorism and hate crimes.’ NSBA even invokes the PATRIOT Act. The association of legitimate protest with terrorism and violence reveals both your contempt for parents and your unwillingness to understand and hear the sincere cries of parents on behalf of their children. To equate parents with terrorists dishonors the thousands of victims of actual terrorism around the world. Have you no shame?”

The parental-rights groups said families have valid concerns that should be addressed by school boards and are justified in being angry at how some school boards have responded to public feedback.

“Citizens are angry that school boards and school officials around the country are restricting access to public meetings, limiting public comment, and in some cases conducting business via text messages in violation of state open meetings laws,” the letter stated. “They are angry that schools are charging them thousands of dollars in public records requests to view curriculum and training materials that impact their children and that should be open to the public by default. They are angry that pandemic-related learning losses have compounded the already-low reading, writing, and math proficiency rates in America’s schools. They are angry that rather than focusing on declining student achievement, large numbers of districts have chosen to fund, often with hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, ‘social justice’ and ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ programs with finite resources.”

The letter continued, “Your members refuse to listen to these concerns—and your association has chosen to smear their constituents rather than engage with them in good faith.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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