At the October meeting of the Milford School District Board of Education, Dr. Adam Brownstein proposed that the district send a letter in support of the Delaware School Board Association (DSBA) who responded negatively to a letter sent to President Joe Biden on September 25 by the National School Boards Association (NSBA). At the November meeting, Brownstein read the letter he hoped the Milford board members would approve and send to the state association in support.
“At the recent DSBA meeting executive meeting, there was some very lively conversation, most of it was centered on our additional most recent conversation at our last board meeting about NSBA and the letter they had sent,” Board President Jason Miller said. “I believe after our last meeting they had retracted what they said and had done so quickly. They also have gone so far as to remove the Executive Director of the NSBA and are searching for a replacement and some of the staff and some of the staff has also left. This brought the conversation to occur at the Delaware State School Board level what, as the DSBA and it’s members, what do we do? How do we react to the NSBA’s kind of gaff?”
Miller went on to say that many states, including Pennsylvania and California, states who pay a significant amount of dues, have left the NSBA, something Miller called a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“The thought process that some of those at the executive level is for Delaware to have more of a sit and wait and see what happens, because there are some advantages to being in NSBA if they choose to change direction on how they have operated over the past few months,” Miller said. “One of the things DSBA has done is asked the districts to let them know where we stand on that.”
The letter from the NSBA stated that local school boards are under “immediate threat” and respectfully asked for “federal law enforcement” to step in and deal with a “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation.” The letter continued, pointing out that social media threats as well as threats sent through the postal service along with physical threats at meetings were increasing, stating that “classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes”
“This was drafted in response to the National School Board Association’s response and ensuing events,” Brownstein said, reading the proposed letter. “On September 29, the National School Board Association wrote a letter to President Biden seeking federal assistance regarding protests that had taken place at school board meetings across the country. This letter stated quote “as these acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crime.” The Attorney General, Merrick Garland, speaking on behalf of the Department of Justice responded to the National School Board request on October 4, stating that “while spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our constitution, that protection does not extend to acts of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
Brownstein continued reading, stating that the Attorney General directed the FBI, working with each state’s attorney general to convene meetings with federal, state, tribal and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of the memorandum.
“Finally, on October 6, the Delaware School Board Association issued a statement in response to the NSBA’s original letter, stating that “the letter indicated that it was on behalf of the members of state associations, school board members and local districts,” Brownstein continued. “However, the Delaware Association was not consulted prior to the release of this letter nor do we agree with the letter. The comments and representations contained within the letter do not reflect the position of our organization. The public education system in Delaware is established on the fundamental principle of local authority. We the members of the local school board have taken an oath to uphold this institution and, as such, we support the First Amendment which includes local community members’ right to address their locally elected officials. We acknowledge that many school boards across the nation are presently facing controversial and divisive issues. However, despite those facts, the members of the Milford School Board will continue to encourage active and even passionate debate on these topics. We, the members of the Milford School Board, would like to thank the DSBA for acknowledging that free speech is essential to successful school board governance.”
Brownstein continued, pointing out that the response of the DSBA along with other school boards compelled the NSBA to release a memorandum on October 22 stating that they regretted and apologized for the letter. The NSBA stated that there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter and that options for better consultation should have been in place to allow for communication of something of this significance.
“Finally, we the members of the Milford School Board, implore all parties to exercise restraint when making representative statements without thoroughly engaging those that are being represented,” Brownstein read. “Our leaders must have the ability to speak on behalf of the people not for the people.”
Miller then asked if it was the intent of Brownstein to have the board vote on the letter and then have the president sign it in order to forward it to the leadership of the DSBA. Brownstein confirmed that this was his intention. School board member David Vezmar disagreed with Brownstein’s views.
“I am in full agreement that our constituents feel comfortable addressing the board in the Milford School District appropriately provided and Milford School District appropriately provides this opportunity at all of our meetings,” Vezmar said. “I also agree that it is problematic that both the National School Board Association and the Delaware School Board Association put out statements presumably representing all boards and their jurisdiction without input or discussion with those representative boards. However, I, in part, agree with the spirit of the letter written by the National School Board Association.”
Vezmar continued stating that, across the country, school board members and their families had been harassed, intimidated, threatened and disrespected.
“Does this equate to domestic terrorism?” Vezmar said. “Maybe or maybe not. I’m not an expert, but I can assure that board members across the country are scared for their safety and for the safety of their loved ones. Right here at our meeting on October 23, we had a local family who were in attendance who were yelled at and harassed because regulations stated that if students were in the building masks must be worn by all and these attendees did not want to wear masks. The same group that was claiming their rights were being violated by the mandates from the governor were actively trying to take away those rights of these students and their parents to remain peacefully at the meeting. One of these family members is a Marine combat veteran who suffers from PTSD. He had to leave the meeting due to the stress put on him and his family. To this day, this family who owns a business in Milford, is active in the Boy Scouts and are a valued part of our village is still feeling the effects of the trauma. That’s not okay. Milford is better than that.”
Vezmar continued, stating that free speech and basic rights applied to everyone, not just those in agreement.
“I wholeheartedly support the rights of people to address our government,” Vezmar said. “Our First Amendment rights are key to keeping government accountable to our citizens. But this isn’t a First Amendment issue, in my opinion. This is a humanity issue. It is about respectfully addressing the board, understanding there will be differences of opinion and being respectful to all sides regardless of those differences. When we have a whole family harassed at our meeting, we, as a community, have failed in this aspect. I will be voting no on this letter as, in my opinion, we are not discussing First Amendment rights. This letter from the National School Board was not written about First Amendment rights. No one is attempting to take away the rights of anyone to address the board. The letter written by the National School Board Association regarding the harassment and threats against board members, while language of parts of the letter may be problematic, I agree with the sentiment.”
A roll call vote was taken with Vice-President Rony Baltazar Lopez, Miller and Vezmar voting against sending it while Brownstein, Scott Fitzgerald and Jean Wylie voted to send the letter. Because the vote ended in a tie, the measure did not pass.
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