Jonathan Lange: School Boards Should Listen To Concerned Parents, Not Attack Them

Columnist Jonathan Lange writes: "Parents are the primary educators of their own children. When they become upset enough to address a school board, educators should drop everything and listen."

Jonathan Lange

November 05, 20215 min read

Jonathan lange
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Exactly one month ago, the National School Board Association sent a formal letter to the White House claiming that “America’s public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threat.” It claims to speak for “state associations and 90,000 school board members.”

The letter asked 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” to “investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against our public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures.”

In addition, it wanted “the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intervene against threatening letters and cyberbullying attacks.” This calls not only for tracking personal letters, but also using the secretive “Internet Covert Operations Program” (iCOP) to monitor the social media posts of parents! This is the stuff of dystopian nightmares.

Six days later, the Department of Justice pounced. It directed “the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of this memorandum.” The stunning swiftness of this response is alarming.

America First Legal Foundation, wrote a formal letter asking DOJ Inspector General Horowitz to investigate. It forwarded evidence of behind-the-scenes collusion among the White House, the DOJ, and the NSBA. Already, FOIA requests have unearthed internal NSBA emails that admit to “talks over the last several weeks [prior to September 29] with White House staff.”

Meanwhile, it was revealed that only two days after NSBA President, Viola M. Garcia and CEO, Chip Slaven sent the letter, the Biden administration awarded Garcia a plum appointment to the National Assessment Governing Board.

By October 22, the NSBA Board of Directors apologized for the letter but the President and CEO did not retract it. They seem to want it both ways. Thus the characterization of some parental dissent as “equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism” still stands, and Attorney General, Merrick Garland, refuses to rescind his threatening memo.

The letter specifically names Wyoming as a state in which “school boards have been confronted by angry mobs and forced to end meetings abruptly.” The letter footnotes an article by Margaret Austin in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle which reports on an August 2, 2021 meeting of the Laramie County School District #1 (LCSD1).

The article, however, tells of one man, acting alone, who objected to the three-minute limitation on comments and refused to stop speaking after his allotted time. Vice Chair, Marguerite Herman, responded by recessing the entire meeting. Thus, she silenced everyone who was patiently waiting to speak. Was it fair to silence dozens of concerned parents rather than simply call security to usher out the rulebreaker?

Further, is it right to characterize the speech of a single man as “an angry mob”? When Wyoming is used as a reason to unleash federal law enforcement on parents, it is the duty of the LCSD1 board to answer these questions. Their monthlong silence sounds like agreement.

The Wyoming School Board Association added more fuel to the fire when Parents Defending Education asked whether it approved of the NSBA letter. Executive Director, Brian Farmer, replied, that the WSBA “had no role in drafting or disseminating the letter from the National School Boards Association to President Biden.” Like 21 other states, they were not consulted.

Farmer went on to say: “Any criminal behavior, including but not limited to violence, threats, harassment, or intimidation, should not be tolerated.” So far, so good. But he immediately followed this with a troubling claim: “We have seen instances of some of these things in Wyoming.” Really? What, exactly, is he talking about?

Does the WSBA believe the actions in Cheyenne were “criminal . . . violence, threats, harassment, or intimidation”? Does it know of other Wyoming school board meetings where criminal actions took place? Where? When? Wyoming parents and students deserve answers. When asked for clarification more than two weeks ago, Mr. Farmer gave no reply.

Parents are the primary educators of their own children. When they become upset enough to address a school board, educators should drop everything and listen. They should be eager to hear from parents who can provide direct input about the effects of the policies that they adopt.

School boards and their associations that sic the overwhelming force of the federal government on upset parents have become a large part of the problem.

By silence in the face of national allegations, the LCSD1 board, and the Wyoming School Board Association are sending the wrong message to the DOJ and to Wyoming parents. Every school board should defend parents unequivocally.

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Jonathan Lange