Concerned About Your Child's School? You Might Be a Domestic Terrorist | Opinion

The worst civics lesson we could possibly teach the next generation: Those who voice different political opinions should be investigated and prosecuted by federal law enforcement as "domestic terrorists." Unfortunately, this is exactly the lesson that the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is teaching American schoolchildren—by example.

Last week, NSBA sent an open letter to President Joe Biden calling for his administration to examine invoking "the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism." It argued that as "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 crimes."

Anyone who attacks or threatens violence against a school board member should, of course, be arrested and prosecuted by the proper authorities. But NSBA's claims that there have been "attacks against school board members and educators" over mask mandates and "physical threats" due to "propaganda" about critical race theory are supported by a citation to a report that doesn't mention any attack or threat.

Rather, here are the incidents that NSBA reported to the president of the United States:

  • Someone made some prank calls: "A resident in Alabama, who proclaimed himself as 'vaccine police,' has called school administrators while filming himself on Facebook Live." (N.B.: The article NSBA cites actually refers to an incident involving a pharmacy, not a school.)
  • Another guy in Michigan "prompted the [school] board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory."
  • Parents in several states have loudly protested mask mandates, which "disrupted" school board meetings.
  • "Other groups," particularly Turning Point USA, are "spreading misinformation that boards are adopting critical race theory curricul[a] and working to maintain online learning by haphazardly attributing it to COVID-19."

This would almost be funny, if NSBA wasn't actually asking the feds to prosecute parents who voice widely held opinions as "domestic terrorists." Scarier still: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has determined that these flimsy complaints provide a sufficient basis for the creation "of a task force, consisting of representatives from the [Department of Justice's] Criminal Division, National Security Division, Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the community Relations Service and the Office of Justice Programs."

People hold up signs during a rally
People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

But in reacting to the terrifying prospect of an apparent federal law enforcement crackdown against parents voicing political dissent, we must not forget the role that NSBA played in requesting it. Parents should also realize that NSBA takes a far brighter view of domestic terrorism when it comes from the Left. NSBA's 2019 annual conference featured a keynote address from Angela Davis, a woman who bought and allegedly supplied the shotgun used by her Black Panther lover to kidnap and murder a judge. Davis' letters to her lover expressing unequivocal solidarity with his commitment to political violence (i.e., "domestic terrorism") are a matter of well-established public record. And Davis' record is a source of pride for NSBA, which boasted that she "draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted List.'"

Parents who oppose mask mandates or critical race theory might be shocked to hear that an allegedly non-partisan, non-ideological organization representing and supporting America's locally elected school board members is lobbying the president of the United States to investigate and prosecute them as terrorists. School board members might not necessarily want to see the parents of their schoolchildren imprisoned. State legislators and governors might object, as well—and might further object to taxpayer money flowing to an organization that pushes an overtly progressive ideological agenda at the local and national level.

Good thing, then, that they all actually have a say in the matter.

NSBA is largely funded by dues collected from affiliated state school board associations, paid for by local school boards out of the public coffer. Unless and until NSBA President Viola Garcia and interim CEO Chip Slaven resign, offer a letter of apology to America's parents and ask President Biden to dismantle his newly formed task force, state and local officials should not allow taxpayer money to continue to flow into their hands.

When state legislatures come back into session, they should consider legislation to prohibit taxpayer money from flowing to state school board associations unless those associations disaffiliate with, and stop funding, NSBA. So long as state school board associations remain affiliated with NSBA, locally elected school board members should vote to disaffiliate from them. Parents should demand that school boards vote to repudiate NSBA and disaffiliate—and watch carefully as the votes are taken.

Garcia and Slaven did not write that open letter to President Biden in their own personal capacity. They purported to do so "on behalf of 90,000 school board members who govern our country's 14,000 local public school districts." By doing so, they have committed their members to an attitude of profound contempt—not only of parents, but of democracy itself. Categorizing vociferous dissent as "domestic terrorism" removes legitimate parental concerns from the realm of civic debate—after all, we all know we "don't negotiate with terrorists." If school board members and state lawmakers do not repudiate and defund NSBA, they will passively cosign NSBA's scorn for parents and the American system of republican self-governance itself.

The decision to publish such a letter could only have taken place within a profoundly insular and radicalized organizational echo chamber. This letter is therefore only the symptom of a deeper ideological cancer that has metastasized within NSBA.

Fortunately, the Constitution does not give NSBA any special dispensation. A new national association can, and should, be built—one that will dedicate itself less to furthering a partisan ideology and more to the nuts and bolts of supporting locally elected school board members. Doing so would only take a modest concerted effort on the part of state legislators and philanthropists who believe that parents who voice concerns about how schools are run deserve to be heard and considered, rather than investigated and prosecuted.

Max Eden is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.