The Education Department denied Tuesday that Secretary Miguel Cardona solicited last year’s much-criticized letter from the National School Boards Association linking rowdy parents at public meetings to domestic terrorism.
“While the secretary did not solicit a letter from NSBA, to understand the views and concerns of stakeholders, the department routinely engages with students, teachers, parents, district leaders and education associations,” a department spokesperson said in an email to The Washington Times.
The denial came after Parents Defending Education posted an email dated Oct. 6 in which NSBA board member Kristi Swett said then-interim executive director Chip Slaven’s Sept. 29 letter to the White House came in response to “a request by Secretary Cordona [sic].”
“I would love to talk to you about the letter when we are all together this weekend,” said Ms. Swett in her email to board member Marnie Maldonado. “At the time, no, I didn’t think the letter fell under an emergency situation. It certainly was not characterized that way when Chip told the officers he was writing a letter to provide information to the White House, from a request by Secretary Cordona [sic].”
The NSBA letter prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland to issue a memo on Oct. 4 bringing in the FBI and other Justice Department resources to address “the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel,” which Republicans decried as a preposterous overreaction to upset parents at school board meetings.
The NSBA board of directors disavowed the letter in an Oct. 25 statement, saying there was “no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”
Mr. Merrick has not withdrawn his memo.
Parents Defending Education said Tuesday that the email, obtained through a public-records request, represents “the first such mention of Secretary Cardona’s involvement in the creation of the NSBA’s since-retracted letter requesting federal intervention in school board issues.”
“If this allegation is true, Secretary Cardona must be held accountable,” said group President Nicole Neily in a statement. “It would mean a grave breach of public trust and a clear threat to parents’ rights everywhere. Attorney General Merrick Garland repeatedly stated that he based his memo, which mobilized the FBI and U.S. attorneys, on the NSBA letter. This alleged coordination between Secretary Cardona and the Department of Justice is deeply concerning.”
The NSBA letter asked President Biden to mobilize 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 regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses.”
The letter justified its request by citing two dozen news articles about parents at school board meetings agitated about issues such as critical race theory and mask mandates. Two arrests stemming from minor skirmishes were handled by local law enforcement.
Among those who reacted Tuesday to the report was Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, who tweeted that if the allegation against Mr. Cardona were true, “he needs to resign.”
The parents’ group previously released an email in which the NSBA’s Mr. Slaven said he was in communication with White House staff about the contents of the letter before he sent it. The letter was also signed by NSBA President Viola Garcia.
On Oct. 13, two weeks after the letter, Mr. Cardona appointed Ms. Garcia to sit on the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Since the NSBA letter was sent, 27 state school boards associations have distanced themselves from the national group, and 18 have sought to withdraw membership, participation or dues, according to Parents Defending Education.
• Emily Zantow contributed to this report.