The mundane school board meeting has become dangerous, and the confrontations are growing across the country. Irate parents and community members are overwhelming local school board meetings and council chambers, waving signs, yelling, screaming, and threatening school board members and councils, demanding their way. In so many school districts and city councils, civil behavior seems to be a foreign concept.
Usually, the topic is policies on face masks, or quarantines, COVID testing, or COVID vaccines. Or online classes or in-person classes. Or policies toward LGBTQ students and the way race and history are taught in schools.
National Public Radio (NPR) reports that “Mobs are yelling obscenities and throwing objects. In one district, a protester brandished a flagpole against a school board official. Other cases have included a protester yelling a Nazi salute, arrests for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct, and numerous death threats against public officials.”
In this clip from the News & Observer, below, the crowd can be heard berating and threatening, and one man goes after the police, with another pulling him back reminding him that “We’re all on the same side”, and a woman responds, “We’re Patriots.”
Many of the protests are being coordinated by national, right-wing groups such as Let Them Breathe. Turning Point USA, a group closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, maintains a website called School Board Watchlist. According to reporting by NPR, the site includes the names and photos of members of school boards around the country who have adopted mask mandates or anti-racist curricula. The group maintains a similar website targeting professors for liberal views, and that site has been linked to several incidents of harassment.
With the turn from civility to violence, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a Sept. 30 letter to President Joe Biden, which asked for federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against public schoolchildren, public school board members, and other public school district officials and educators.
“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” reads the letter signed by NSBA President Viola M. Garcia and NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven. “The National School Boards Association respectfully asks 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.”
The letter asks the federal government to “investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our children and educators, to protect interstate commerce, and to preserve public school infrastructure and campuses.”
The letter cites more than twenty instances of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation that have transpired during school board meetings and that are targeted at school officials. It cites incidents in California, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
While it acknowledges that local and state law enforcement agencies have worked hard to protect public school officials and restore order, it points out that some jurisdictions need assistance, especially around monitoring threat levels. It asks the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Secret Service and its National Threat Assessment Center to assess the risk from cyberbullying, and in-person threats and assaults.
The threats have come from all directions, this year including a particularly angry kind of person; believers in Trump’s Big Lie that Trump won the election (he didn’t), and that they are being denied their rightful leader. Earlier this year, right-wing groups, including at least one GOP group, put out communications that reached all the way to the county level, instructing their party members to attend meetings, protest, create chaos, discourage elected officials from running for office, then run for office themselves to cement the changes they want.
The letter underscores that local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues, calling it “the heart of good school board governance and promotion of free speech.” but in the next sentence it calls for “safeguards to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.”
The letter concludes, “As the threats grow and news of extremist hate organizations showing up at school board meetings is being reported, this is a critical time for a proactive approach to deal with this difficult issue.”
It comes on the heels of a joint statement issued last week by NSBA, the School Superintendents Association, and the American Association of School Administrators, calling for an end to threats and violence around safe school opening decisions.
But the larger question for society remains: when it comes to policies, elections, and governance, is violence being normalized by a specific group of people stuck on their delusion? If so, why?
Read NSBA’s complete letter to President Biden at