White House in contact with school board group for 'weeks' before controversial 'Patriot Act' letter: emails

NSBA's CEO said they were in talks with White House for 'several weeks' before sending letter

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President Biden's White House was in discussion with the National School Board Association in the weeks leading up to the NSBA sending a letter demanding federal law enforcement crack down on the alleged harassment of school officials, emails show.

The emails show the school board group drew on conversations with White House staffers in drafting the letter. 

On Sept. 29, the NSBA, which represents more than 90,000 school board members, sent a letter to Biden asking his administration to address hostilities toward school boards as possible acts of "domestic terrorism," claiming there had been an increase in the "acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials."

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The NSBA letter also called for the Biden administration to invoke the Patriot Act, which Congress passed to deal with terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

"Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula," the letter signed by NSBA President Viola Garcia and Chip Slaven, the group's interim executive director and CEO, stated. 

Less than a week later, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued an explosive memo directing the FBI to investigate threats by parents against school board members. 

According to emails obtained by Parents Defending Education through public records requests, the NSBA was in talks with White House officials for several weeks before sending its letter. The emails, which were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, were publicly released by PDE on Thursday. 

"[I]n talks over the last several weeks with White House staff, they requested additional information on some of the specific threats, so the letter also details many of the incidents that have been occurring," Slaven wrote in a Sept. 29 email to the union's board of directors.

"NSBA has been engaged with the White House and the Department of Education on these and other issues related to the pandemic for several weeks now," Garcia wrote in an email to the board on Oct. 2. 

"The pandemic and our heightened political environment have created a lot of tension in our society," she continued. "School boards have been under the spotlight since the start of the pandemic, but it’s risen to a new level over the last few weeks We felt compelled to say something when we started hearing about the threats, harassment and acts of intimidation at school board meetings."

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The Biden administration’s closeness with teachers unions is facing fresh scrutiny after Garland's memo announcing a new crackdown on the harassment of school officials. Republicans have raised concerns that it will be used against the free speech rights of parents, who have been especially vocal about school policies during the COVID-19 pandemic and about critical race theory being taught to children.

Republicans pressed Garland during Thursday’s hearing on whether White House and Justice Department officials discussed the memo before it was issued. Garland said he never personally discussed it with the White House, but he admitted that the letter "was brought to our attention," and that someone at the White House had discussed it with someone at the Justice Department.