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National school board group wanted Biden to deploy US troops to parent protests

U.S. Soldiers with the Oklahoma National Guard stand on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2021. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Devlin Drew)
May 24, 2022

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had drafted a request to President Joe Biden’s administration calling for the activation of National Guard troops to monitor school board protests last fall, according to a draft version of the letter the association sent to the administration.

In September of last year, the NSBA — an organization representing 90,000 school-board members — sent a letter to the Biden administration asking for help law enforcement assistance over widespread parent protests of public school curriculums and policies. While the version of the NSBA letter that ultimately made its way to Biden called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute protesters under federal counter-terrorism measures including the PATRIOT Act, earlier versions of the letter went even further requesting a crack down on such protests.

The NSBA’s letter sent to Biden drew backlash even without the military request. As a result, the NSBA retained attorney Philip Kiko and the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP to conduct a review of the events surrounding the decision to send the letter. The independent review found that during the NSBA’s letter drafting process, the organization had included language that read, “We ask that the Army National Guard and its Military Police be deployed to certain school districts and related events where students and school personnel have been subjected to acts and threats of violence.”

The review found on Sept. 9, 2021, then-Interim NSBA CEO and Executive Director Chip Slaven directed Deborah Rigsby, the NSBA Program Director for Lobbying and Federal Legislation, and Jane Mellow, the NSBA’s interim Chief Advocacy Officer, to draft a letter to either the U.S. Attorney General or the director of the FBI. The review found that by Sept. 24, Slaven thought the letter was “in a good place” but suggested removing the language about the National Guard. Still, the review noted Slaven provided the White House with an advanced summary of the final letter and spoke directly with the White House about the school board protests.

The review noted the version of the NSBA letter that was sent to Biden received positive initial feedback from the White House. Viola Garcia, the then-President of the NSBA Board of Directors, received a personal call from Biden to discuss the letter and, three days later, Biden directed the FBI to help combat “efforts to intimidate” and “threats” aimed at school officials and teachers. 

Despite the initial positive feedback from the Biden White House, the independent review noted the NSBA letter also drew strong criticisms. The final NSBA letter included 20 examples of the kinds of disruptive protests going on at school board meetings but, according to an Oct. 8 National Review article reviewing the letter, the large majority of the 20 examples did not include any violent threats and mostly described parents getting in shouting matches with school officials.

In an Oct. 22, statement, the NSBA apologized for the letter to Biden, stating that while it was concerned about the safety of its member school boards, “There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter” and “we should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance.”

The internal review also noted the NSBA saw a decline in membership following the controversial letter.

Despite the backlash against the NSBA, the Biden DOJ reportedly launched several counterterrorism probes of the school board protests. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland earlier this month, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Mike Johnson (R-LA), more than two dozen whistleblowers had come forward claiming the FBI had referred dozens of tips about school board protests to its counterterrorism division.

“This whistleblower information is startling,” the letter to Garland states. “You have subjected these moms and dads to the opening of an FBI investigation about them, the establishment of an FBI case file that includes their political views, and the application of a ‘threat tag’ to their names as a direct result of their exercise of their fundamental constitutional right to speak and advocate for their children.”