The National School Boards Association (NSBA) began treating aggrieved parents' and citizens' criticisms of the actions of its member boards as "domestic terrorism," demanding a federal response. The federal government agreed that made a lot of sense.
As it turns out, the NSBA was consulting with administration figures beforehand, as Fox News has reported:
Viola Garcia, the NSBA president whom the Department of Education later named to a federal board, sent a memo to NSBA members on Oct. 11 (but dated Oct. 12), providing a timeline of the NSBA's interaction with the White House ahead of the letter to Biden, which the NSBA sent on Sept. 29.
Five days later, on Oct. 4, the DOJ issued a memo directing law enforcement to investigate threats to school boards. On Oct. 22, the NSBA issued an apology for the letter.
The NSBA complained in that letter that what it called "acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased [and] the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes." It seems it had the Biden administration on board before asking the administration to act on its fears of a responsive citizenry.
In a small sign of rhetorical sense, if not a sensible use of federal criminal investigatory powers, the attorney general's October 4 directive to sic the full force of the FBI on upset parents of public school children did not explicitly use the inflammatory phrase "domestic terrorism." It did, though, agree that the FBI must now "convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district…These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response."
Despite the NSBA's apparent regret for the letter (after the public backlash), Attorney General Merrick Garland, who sent the order to the FBI to get tough on school board meeting attendees, told Congress he had no second thoughts and that his actions did not rely on the NSBA's letter.
It's possible the attorney general's hand knew not what the White House's hand was planning, but Fox News reports that "Another email exclusively sent to Fox News revealed that NSBA had discussed the issues with the White House 'for weeks' before sending the letter. Garcia and Chip Slaven, an NSBA executive, altered the text of the letter to satisfy the curiosity of White House staff."
As Reason's Matt Welch has previously reported, the school board and government panic, aided by media outlets resolutely on their sides, is mostly based on absurdly "comparing raucous school board meetings to the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, attributing the increase in parental outrage to racism and/or manipulation by cynical puppet masters, conducting laughably one-sided fact-checks, using the phrase 'Republicans seize' unironically, and taking at face value education-establishment claims that all curricular and organizational changes made in the name of racial equity are merely about being more accurate in the teaching of history."
The panic, which we now know arose from NSBA and administration collaboration, further misrepresents angry responses from meeting attendees to school policies on matters such as COVID-19 mitigation measures and how race is dealt with in public education as violence and threats, when they are almost always nothing of the sort. Such public aiming of FBI attention at what is overwhelmingly just parents exercising their rights within the public school system, even if loudly, seems more meant to intimidate than to actually quash real crimes.
The Biden administration's obsession with treating heated policy disputes, especially from the perceived right, as worthy of federal investigation as potential "domestic terror" is dumb and dangerous to American liberty. It will rightly create more of exactly the sort of heated citizen pushback that the administration is trying to suppress.
It's good that various state-level school board associations are disengaging from the NSBA for its calling in the FBI's dogs on aggrieved parents. As Fox News reports, "Ohio's, Wisconsin's, and the school boards of nine other states have reportedly terminated their relationships with NSBA" since the controversy began.