National School Boards Association apologizes for letter that sparked U.S. attorney general memo

New emails show White House communicated with school boards group; NC congressmen press for answers

Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP)

RALEIGH — The National School Board Association is now apologizing for a letter it sent to the Biden administration. That letter, which drew comparisons between parents protesting school boards and “domestic terrorism,” was used by the U.S. Attorney General to direct the FBI to intervene in local school board affairs nationwide.

On Friday, Oct. 22, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) issued an apology to its members for the letter sent to the White House by the NSBA President and CEO.

“On behalf of the NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter,” reads the NSBA board’s letter. “To be clear, the safety of school board members, other school officials and educators, and students is our top priority, and there remains important work to be done on this issue. However, there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter. 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.”

According to Parents Defending Education, as of Oct. 22, at least 21 state members of the NSBA have distanced or withdrawn their membership following the Sept. 29 letter, among them is North Carolina.

The North Carolina School Board Association’s response said in part that they had “no role in creating the National School Boards Association’s letter to President Biden—we were not privy to any drafts of or conversations about the letter prior to its release. The Association does not agree with the tone or language in the letter nor the request for federal agencies to intervene in our communities.”

The North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) was penned by its executive director, Leanne Winner, which she confirmed to North State Journal in an email. Winner told North State Journal that “To date, NCSBA’s Board of Directors has not discussed its membership status with NSBA.”

The NCSBA’s response also claimed to have seen examples of criminal acts or threats in North Carolina. Winner included links to five news reports of alleged incidents involving school boards in the state, one of which included a Stanly County school board member who resigned after claiming he received death threats. North State Journal has reached out to Stanly County for more information.

Winner said that five examples were publicly shared already but said she was “unable to share examples with you that have not been publicly released, as the board member or board may have their reasons as to why they have not publicly done so.” She also reiterated that the “NCSBA strongly believes that students, parents, and community members should and need to be able to voice their opinions to their elected officials.”

North Carolina congressional representatives have been pressing various officials for more details on Garland’s memorandum.

During a congressional hearing on Oct. 21, Garland admitted that he based his claims of “violent threats” to school boards and education staff using the now infamous letter from the National School Board Association (NSBA) sent to President Biden on Sept. 29.

N.C. Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (NC-09) questioned Garland if FBI strategy meetings against parents were already taking place. Garland could not answer that question nor questions about his son-in-law’s involvement in a company that produces Critical Race Theory education materials.

On Oct. 15, Bishop issued a letter to North Carolina-based U.S. Attorneys demanding full transparency related to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s memorandum instructing the FBI to investigate local state school board protests.

“We believe the Attorney General’s premise to be utterly false,” the letter says in reference to Garland’s claims.

Other Republican congressional members co-signing the letter include U.S. Reps. Ted Budd (NC-13), Greg Murphy (NC-03) and David Rouzer (NC-07).

“Attorney General Garland owes America’s parents answers as to why he’s targeting them for trying to protect their own children,” said Bishop in a statement. “If there’s evidence of widespread violent threats on behalf of moms and dads, Garland certainly hasn’t shown it.”

“In the meantime, if the FBI is already conducting ‘strategy’ meetings with U.S. Attorneys for North Carolina against our parents, I’m demanding to be notified about it and be allowed to attend,” Bishop said.

“It is emphatically not the role of federal law enforcement to stigmatize and chill a political movement disfavored by the incumbent President,” the letter reads and goes on to say that even protests deemed “confrontational or offensive” are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The representatives also chided Garland’s mobilization of the FBI against parents and the public after the government “turned a blind eye” to violent protests in 2020.

This is the second letter on the subject of Garland’s memorandum involving North Carolina congressional members in as many weeks.

On Oct. 7, Bishop, along with around 30 other House Republicans, sent a letter to Garland and the DOJ demanding more information on the training and about the alleged threats referred to by Garland.

The congressmen may find themselves sending more letters, but this time to the White House.

According to emails obtained through records request by Parents Defending Education, NSBA’s president and CEO did not seek nor obtain approval from the organization’s board before sending Biden the letter on Sept. 29.

Additionally, the emails include communications from the White House to the NSBA that “requested additional information on some of the specific threats.” Within days of that White House request, Garland issued his memorandum directing the FBI to have meetings with local education officials and investigate school board protests.

About A.P. Dillon 1133 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_