In another sign of its ideological disconnect from its basic duties, the Rapid City School Board has on its November 2 agenda a resolution to withdraw from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. The reason for this radical departure is no collection of long-standing grievances or any evidence of underperformance, corruption, or administrative superfluity of the non-profit that trains and supports school board members, lobbies for their interests in Pierre, and helps them find teachers. Rapid City’s radical right-wing school board members would ditch all that just because the ASBSD isn’t as interested in making political statements and denying the reality of domestic terrorism as they are.
In September, the National School Boards Association posted a letter to President Joe Biden asking “for federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against public schoolchildren, public school board members, and other public school district officials and educators.” NSBA said the threats and violence are fueled by resistance to pandemic protection measures and false propaganda about “critical race theory”:
NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety. As our school boards continue coronavirus recovery operations within their respective districts, they are also persevering against other challenges that could impede this progress in a number of communities. 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. This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class [NSBA President Viola M. Garcia and NSBA exec/CEO Chip Slaven, open letter to President Joe Biden, 2021.09.29].
The letter documented more than 20 examples of the threats and violence that alarm the NSBA. Deeming this anti-school violence “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the NSBA asked for federal law enforcement to work with state and local police to protect our schools:
As these threats and acts of violence have become more prevalent – during public school board meetings, via documented threats transmitted through the U.S. Postal Service, through social media and other online platforms, and around personal properties – NSBA respectfully asks that a joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and with public school officials be undertaken to focus on these threats. NSBA specifically solicits the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses. We also request the assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intervene against threatening letters and cyberbullying attacks that have been transmitted to students, school board members, district administrators, and other educators.
As these 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. As such, NSBA requests a joint expedited review by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, and Homeland Security, along with the appropriate training, coordination, investigations, and enforcement mechanisms from the FBI, including any technical assistance necessary from, and state and local coordination with, its National Security Branch and Counterterrorism Division, as well as any other federal agency with relevant jurisdictional authority and oversight. Additionally, NSBA requests that such review examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute, the Conspiracy Against Rights statute, an Executive Order to enforce all applicable federal laws for the protection of students and public school district personnel, and any related measure. As the threats grow and news of extremist hate organizations showing up at school board meetings is being reported, this is a critical time for a proactive approach to deal with this difficult issue [Garcia and Slaven, 2021.09.29].
Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to the NASB letter by directing the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to look into the violence, saying that the First Amendment does not protect “threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views” and that threatening public servants is illegal and “counter to our nation’s core values.”
But since bullying is a core value of the Republican Party and its insurgents on school boards across the country, the Rapid City School Board is threatening to stop paying membership fees or anything else to ASBSD for its failure to denounce the NASB for calling brownshirt tactics domestic terrorism:
This vaguely written resolution leaves the public uneducated as to what it is talking about, failing to specify which letter, when it was written, what it contained, what values of the current board it contravened (or why we would emphasize the values of the “current” board, when the values of a public body are considered constant and defined by its charter or constitution), what White House communication with the NASB has to do with this complaint, or why cutting the district off from the useful services of South Dakota’s school board service group is a logical consequence of the ASBSD’s action, or, more accurately, its failure to take action in response to a trivial political controversy.
But such vague shouting is what you get when your elected officials aren’t thinking for themselves and are simply slurping up and burping back the culture-war pablum manufactured by Fox News and a fake grassroots education group manufactured by Koch-connected corporate school privatizers.
As of last week, at least four state school board associations (New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri) have formally cut ties with the NSBA for calling violence against school boards “domestic terrorism.” The NSBA already backed down on October 22, apologizing for the September 29 letter, saying “there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter” (although, slipping into RCAS vagueness, NSBA doesn’t say which language was unjustified), and promising to “improve coordination and consultation among our staff, our board, and our members across the country.” ASBSD exec Wade Pogany similarly retreats before brownshirt rage:
Wade Pogany, executive director for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said in a telephone interview that the Associated School Boards does not agree with the letter, including its call for federal law enforcement assistance.
“What the National School Boards has done is a mistake,” Pogany said. “We were not consulted. We were not aware of this letter until it was sent out.”
Pogany said the Associated School Boards of South Dakota is “working with the National School Boards Association so that this doesn’t happen again.” He also said that regarding “any threats, or any disorderly conduct, we have encouraged local school boards to work with local law enforcement” [Michael Neary, “Grants, Grandview, State Affiliation Among Topics to Be Considered by School Board,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.11.01].
Maybe the NASB should have sent a draft around for organizational review, but don’t let that process point cloud the main issue, for which no apology is needed: deliberately misinformed and misinforming right-wing domestic terrorists are attacking our school boards and other public institutions. Thugs are threatening school officials with violence for doing their jobs, with the intent of undermining public education and democracy. The Rapid City School Board doesn’t want us talking about that problem because its new radical members are part of that problem.