Education

Ray Carter | October 13, 2021

OSSBA silent as counterparts reject ‘terrorism’ rhetoric

State school board associations from across the nation are publicly condemning the National School Boards Association’s call for parents who object to Critical Race Theory to be investigated under anti-terrorism laws.

But, so far, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) is not among those criticizing the National School Boards Association.

In a Sept. 29 letter sent to President Joe Biden, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) 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 in classroom instruction.

NSBA officials declared that some parent protests “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” and requested that federal law-enforcement officials investigate protesters under federal anti-terrorism and hate-crimes laws.

Shortly thereafter, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum announcing 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 NSBA letter included no specific examples of organized terrorism and many examples noted in the letter amounted to little more than verbal altercations and citizens shouting during public meetings.

Critics say the NSBA’s actions are an effort to impede citizens’ free-speech rights. Now, many state school boards associations are expressing agreement with NSBA critics.

On October 11, Parents Defending Education emailed 47 state school board associations for comment on the NSBA’s September 29 letter, excluding only Hawaii, which is not a member of NSBA, and Virginia and Louisiana, which had already made public statements.

So far, Parents Defending Education has collected responses from state school boards associations in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Many of those groups have said local law enforcement should handle any potential threats at school board meetings, not federal officials, and that school boards should welcome public feedback.

The Arkansas School Boards Association responded that its leaders “disagree with much of the substance” of the NSBA’s letter and said school board meetings “should be a place of communication, discourse, and productive decision making for the betterment of students.”

The Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA) called the NSBA letter “unnecessary and quite frankly not helpful,” noting it has received “NO reports of violence or threats of violence toward school staff or school board members” [capitalization used in original].

“The DSBA disagrees, in the strongest possible terms, with parents and citizens protesting school board meetings being characterized as ‘domestic terrorists’ and their protests being likened to ‘hate crimes,’” the DSBA stated. “The DSBA firmly asserts that citizen and public engagement in school board meetings is an integral and vital aspect of school board governance. We also made it clear that any attempt to silence citizens’ voices is a clear violation of their rights to free speech.”

The Florida School Boards Association has called for “a review of NSBA leadership and its processes” and “a public acknowledgement of the federal overreach expressed” in the NSBA’s letter to Biden. The group said the NSBA letter has caused its members to question “our commitment to the First Amendment rights of citizens, which we believe is the bedrock of democracy and would always protect.”

The Florida School Boards Association noted it has not submitted payment to the NSBA for its 2020-2021 dues because it has been “reassessing the value of our affiliation with NSBA due to concerns surrounding NSBA’s governance, leadership, transparency, and failure to embrace non-partisanship.”

The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) responded that it “was not consulted about this letter, did not provide information to NSBA, and was not informed that the letter was being sent, even though a Georgia school district was used as an example in the letter.”

“GSBA and its 180 local board of education members also strongly support the principle that parents are a vital part of the public education process,” the group stated.

The incident in Georgia referenced by the NSBA in its letter involved a May 2021 meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Education. At that meeting, roughly 100 attendees declined to wear a mask and did not leave when ordered to do so by school officials. No acts or threats of violence were reported in associated news coverage.

The Louisiana School Boards Association declared that it “does not agree with NSBA’s action.”

“Our concern is that NSBA’s request and description of events is not a universal occurrence at all school boards, it fails to align with the standards of good governance, and it discourages active participation in the governance process,” the LSBA stated. “The NSBA’s request represents a huge step backwards in the collective advocacy efforts carried out by LSBA and other state associations in protecting and preserving openness, transparency, and local autonomy.”

The Louisiana School Boards Association said it is “now evaluating the future of our affiliation with NSBA.”

The Mississippi School Boards Association (MSBA) declared that it “does not support the action taken by NSBA. Hearing from passionate stakeholders can be a sign of healthy community engagement. NSBA’s action is counter-productive to board efforts to engage parents and other stakeholders in the activities of the district and to our efforts to solicit stakeholder input and support.”

The Mississippi School Boards Association also said the terminology used in the NSBA’s letter “was inflammatory and has created great dissension, much unproductive discussion, and a rise of distrust in public school board members and educators,” and that the NSBA proposal “actually takes away from the local control that we have so long advocated for and value so highly.”

The Missouri School Boards Association said its members were “disappointed with the NSBA letter and have clearly expressed our disagreement to them in no uncertain terms.”

“We absolutely and unequivocally believe in the First Amendment rights of parents and all citizens to speak freely and petition their governments,” the Missouri School Boards Association stated. “We appreciate the passion parents and others have for Missouri’s schools and the children we are serving. We encourage that passion and must create safe opportunities for voices to be heard.”

The Montana School Boards Association said its members “disagree with NSBA’s recent decision to request federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against public schoolchildren, public school board members, and other public school district officials.”

While some school board meetings in Montana have involved “occasions when individual behavior has crossed the line and strayed toward implied or explicit threats of violence,” the group noted that “the overwhelming majority of those taking part in school board meetings and protests have done so peacefully, respectfully and lawfully.”

The New Hampshire School Boards Association said it “was not consulted, was not asked to opine, and was not asked to provide input” on the NSBA’s letter to Biden.

The North Carolina School Boards Association said it “does not agree with the tone or language in the letter nor the request for federal agencies to intervene in our communities.”

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said the group “has always encouraged local school boards to welcome input and remarks from community members and all stakeholders, and Pennsylvania has a long history of relying on local school district control to ensure that the will of the community and parents is best represented.”

The Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) said it “believes that parental and family involvement in the education of each child is essential to academic success.”

The Texas School Boards Association stated, “Our position has always been that school board meetings should be places where parents and community members are welcomed and provided the opportunity to openly share their opinions and concerns on how the schools in their community are being governed.”

“It’s natural that community members across a state as large and diverse as Texas are going to have different opinions on important K-12 issues,” the Texas School Boards Association stated. “We think this diversity of opinion—and the ability to express it openly—makes us strong.”

The Virginia School Boards Association said, “The decision by NSBA to write this letter is not the first disagreement that VSBA has had with its national association and probably will not be the last,” and that Virginia School Boards Association members “recognize the vital role parents play in the education of their children and within the school community.”

Parents Defending Education indicated the organization has received no response from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA).

OSSBA has also not responded to prior requests issued by state senators and an Oklahoma parents organization for the group to take a public stance on the NSBA letter.

Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) Executive Director Shawn 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.”

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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