Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee started an investigation Wednesday into what they called “collusion” between the Biden administration and the National School Boards Association ahead of the Justice Department’s decision to intervene in squabbles between parents and school officials.
In a letter to NSBA officials, the Republicans asked for their communications with the White House, FBI and Justice Department related to the organization’s Sept. 29 letter to President Biden calling for federal assistance and comparing threats against school officials to “domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
The NSBA board of directors issued an apology last week to its state affiliates for the letter, after Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Oct. 4 directive bringing in the FBI to address “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school officials.
“We are investigating the troubling attempts by the Department of Justice and the White House to use the heavy hand of federal law enforcement to target concerned parents at local school board meetings and chill their protected First Amendment activity,” said the 19 House Judiciary Republicans in the letter obtained by The Washington Times.
They cited internal emails posted by Parents Defending Education in which NSBA President Viola Garcia and interim Executive Director Chip Slaven said their staff had been in discussions with the White House about the letter before it was sent.
“The Biden administration seemingly relied upon the NSBA letter — which it coordinated in advance with the NSBA — as justification to unleash the full weight of the federal law enforcement apparatus upon America’s parents,” said the Republican letter, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee.
The GOP letter also asked “whether the NSBA will urge Attorney General Garland to withdraw or rescind his October 4 memorandum.”
“Concerned parents are absolutely not domestic terrorists and, to the extent actual threats exist, local law enforcement — and not the FBI — are the appropriate authorities to address those situations,” said the GOP letter. “Parents cannot tolerate this collusion between the NSBA and the Biden administration to construct a justification for invoking federal law enforcement to intimidate and silence parents using their constitutional rights to advocate for their child’s future.”
Mr. Garland refused to retract the memo under questioning Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying it came “in response to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct — that’s all it’s about.”
He also made it clear that he never referred in his memo to “domestic terrorism.”
“The language in the letter that they disavow is language that was never included in my memo and never would have been,” Mr. Garland said. “I did not adopt every concern that they had in their letter. I adopted only the concern about violence and threats of violence and that hasn’t changed.”
The NSBA letter backed up its request for federal involvement by citing two dozen articles about school board meetings featuring outspoken parents alarmed about critical race theory and mask mandates, but the reports listed only two arrests.
One of those arrested was Scott Smith, a parent in Loudoun County, Virginia, who was charged with disorderly conduct in June after he sought to confront the board about his daughter being sexually assaulted in a bathroom at Stone Bridge High School.
A Loudoun County juvenile court judge ruled Monday that the attacker engaged in “non-consensual sex” and would be sentenced in November.
“The letter cited a number of interactions at school board meetings, the vast majority of which did not involve violence or threats,” the Republicans said. “Notably, as one ‘example’ of alleged domestic terrorism, the NSBA cited an instance in Loudoun County, Virginia, where a father angrily confronted members at a school board meeting about the heinous sexual assault of his daughter.”
On Monday, Mr. Smith asked the NSBA for a full retraction and apology for being called a domestic terrorist, according to ABC7 News.
The Washington Times has reached out to the NSBA for comment.
The NSBA board of directors said in its Oct. 22 memo to state affiliates that “we regret and apologize for the letter,” which was signed by Ms. Garcia and Mr. Slaven, not the board.
“There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter,” the board said. “We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance. We apologize also for the strain and stress this situation has caused you and your organizations.”
The memo said the organization would be conducting a formal review of its procedures.
• Emily Zantow contributed to this report.