As School Boards, Staffs Face Threats, Police Struggle to Press Charges

As school boards and other school officials have received anonymous and public threats to their safety, jobs and families, many local police departments are unable to find adequate evidence indicating a crime or a suspect that would allow them to pursue charges, according to a Reuters report.

The news service reviewed over 220 threats in several school districts across the country and spoke with those who were threatened, local police departments and, in some cases, the people who sent the threats. The threats mirror a larger trend in the U.S. of threats against other officials—including lawmakers and election workers—and such threats are largely motivated by conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric that warns of people who want to destroy America, Reuters said.

Threats against election workers following the 2020 presidential election led to a series of bills in several states creating harsher penalties for threatening an official. Meanwhile, a task force created by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to address the rising threats has led to arrests in Nevada and Texas.

Last year, Garland made a statement urging similar support for investigations into threats against school boards. But the statement was met with significant criticism from Republican lawmakers who said federal authorities shouldn't be investigating threats from "concerned parents" and portraying them as "domestic terrorists."

About half of the 31 school districts Reuters spoke to said the threats had caused them to increase security at meetings, turn their in-person meetings into remote discussions or remove the public comment portion of meetings.

While many of the threats reported by Reuters include racist, antisemitic and other discriminatory language, several police departments that spoke to the news service said that while some of the messages were offensive, they did not rise to the level of a crime.

A few arrests were made for unruly behavior or threats made in person at a school board meeting, but no arrests resulted because of a threat made online, Reuters said.

In some cases where a death threat was made, police investigated and could not determine the identity of the person who made the anonymous threat online, according to Reuters. Several local branches of the FBI contacted as part of the report refused to comment on whether they were investigating threats.

Issues that have gained significant public attention over the past two years have sparked the increase in threats, as parents have disagreed with COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates and remote learning, Reuters said.

In addition, many Republican lawmakers and commentators have become increasingly focused on "critical race theory" as a catchall term for education policies they believe "indoctrinate" their children with anti-American views and hostility toward white people, according to Reuters.

Experts have said that critical race theory was created as a way to teach students, mainly in law schools, about systems and laws across the U.S. that have ingrained racial bias because of the country's history of slavery and segregation, Reuters said.

Update 02/15/22, 3:55 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional context and information.

School Boards Death Threats COVID Race Reuters
A new report from Reuters shows that anonymous threats of violence to school board officials are rarely followed by criminal charges because of a lack of evidence. Above, a Pennsbury School District security guard observes a school board meeting in Levittown, Pennsylvania, on December 16, 2021. Kylie Cooper/AFP via Getty Images