The group that represents Delaware’s school boards does not agree with a national group’s characterizing protests over mask requirements and curriculum issues as hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism.
Those protesting are exercising their right to free speech and to approach a local government board, said the Delaware School Boards Association.
The National School Boards Association wrote to President Joe Biden on Sept. 29 seeking federal law enforcement and other assistance to “deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”
“Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech,” the national association said in their letter to Biden. “However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.”
The national association said it was writing on behalf of its state associations and the more than 90,000 school board members who govern the country’s 14,000 local public school districts.
But the Delaware association sought to distance itself from the letter in a Thursday press release.
“The Delaware School Boards Association was not consulted prior to the release of this letter, nor do we agree with the letter,” said John Marinucci, the group’s executive director. “The comments and representations contained within the letter do not reflect the position of our organization.”
Marinucci said he agrees that order must be maintained and that the safety of board members, staff, families and community members must be the top priority during meetings — but the group believes that free speech and the ability of citizens to address their locally elected board members are essential to successful governance.
“The bottom line is that the public education system in Delaware is established on the fundamental principle of local authority,” Marinucci said. “The ability for parents and members of the local community to address their school board is a fundamental aspect of local authority.”
Efforts to reach several local schools boards were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.
The letter from the national organization called on Biden to authorize an expedited joint review of the protests by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education and Homeland Security, along with training, coordination, investigations and enforcement mechanisms from the FBI’s national security branch and counterterrorism division.
“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,” the national group said.
A proactive approach, in the National School Board Association’s view, includes “enforceable actions” under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the PATRIOT Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute and the Conspiracy Against Rights statute.
The group also requested Biden issue an executive order requiring the enforcement of all applicable federal laws “for the protection of students and public school district personnel.”
The Delaware Association of School Boards said it continues to provide guidance to school boards on how they can help ensure their meetings run smoothly, even when there are contentious issues on the agenda.
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