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The National School Board Association, which apologized last year for a letter asking the Justice Department to investigate protesting parents as ‘domestic terrorism’, has concluded a review of the debacle and vowed that it would not happen again.
“The letter directly contradicts our core commitments to parental engagement, local control and political impartiality,” NSBA Executive Director and CEO John Heim said in a statement announcing the findings. “The sentiments shared in the letter do not represent the views or position of the NSBA. The NSBA does not seek or advocate federal law enforcement involvement in local school board meetings.”
The independent investigation blamed the September 29, 2021 letter on Chip Slaven, who was then acting CEO and executive director of the NSBA. Slaven “was behind the letter, both in origin and substance,” the report released Friday said, and coordinated with a senior White House education adviser when the letter was released.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS SORRY FOR ‘LANGUAGE’ IN LETTER LINKING PARENTS TO DOMESTIC TERRORISTS
Slaven wrote the letter in “response to growing tensions at local school board meetings manifested by the division of public opinion in the then-ongoing debate over when and how public school students should return to education. in person” following the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, according to the NSBA report.
The investigation reveals weeks of collaboration between NSBA staff, under Slaven’s leadership, and members of the Biden administration — particularly with President Biden’s senior adviser Mary Wall. Wall and Slaven exchanged emails and had a phone conversation to discuss the request. In a Sept. 21 email, Wall asked to see the letter ahead of time so he could discuss it with other White House offices and the Justice Department.
However, the investigation found no evidence that the Department of Education or the Biden administration specifically requested the letter. Although Slaven communicated with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and shared examples of “inappropriate” parent activism in school boards, investigators “found no communication between [Education] Department and the NSBA…specifically asking the NSBA to make a formal request for federal assistance or intervention.
After sending the letter to the White House asking “to monitor federal law enforcement and possibly intervene in local school board meetings across the country,” the highest levels of the Biden administration responded. , with “positive and cooperative feedback”.
“In less than a week, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum to federal law enforcement officials directing federal agencies to act in accordance with the relief sought in the letter,” the NSBA report said.
President Biden personally called one of the signatories to the letter, Viola Garcia, who was then chair of the NSBA board. The Biden administration tapped Garcia to a federal board overseeing student progress.
On October 4, 2021, Garland released his memo initiating “a series of measures designed to address the increase in criminal behavior directed at school personnel”. The next day, Biden “called Dr. Garcia and thanked her for letting him know what was going on locally and for Dr. Garcia to discuss the letter on TV,” the report said.
Garcia told NSBA investigators that “she was hesitant to discuss the call due to the perception that the NSBA was ‘essentially in cahoots with the Biden administration on this letter.’
On October 7, Wall, who received several emails and a call with Slaven while drafting the letter, emailed Slaven again to express that “we have your back and are exploring all possible avenues “.
Garcia was announced as Biden’s pick for federal council on Oct. 13, but NSBA investigators found no connection between the letter and his nomination.
The negative reaction to Garland’s letter and memo was swift. Parent advocates condemned the comparison to domestic terrorists, and Republican politicians called on Garland to step down.
State school board associations also condemned the NSBA’s letter, and several states withdrew from the national organization.
SCHOOL BOARD GROUP CALLS ON BIDEN TO USE PATRIOT ACT AGAINST PARENTS OVER COVID MEASURES, CRT
One of the letter’s demands involved using the controversial post-September. 11 PATRIOT Act bill to prosecute parents accused of violence against school boards. Slaven clarified a draft of the letter so he was certain he was asking for the act to be used on threats he saw domestically. In his interview with NSBA investigators, Slaven “said he edited the letter to clarify that the request to use the PATRIOT Act was not about al-Qaeda or foreign adversaries, but about the fact that ‘we were concerned about people ‘.here in this country.’”
“Notably, Mr. Slaven’s drafting, directing, approving and sending of the letter did not explicitly violate NSBA policies or procedures,” the report said. NSBA board members were aware that staff regularly intervened with officials without direction from the board or other steering committees. However, the letter represented a unique form of advocacy in terms of length and specific requests to the president.
Most NSBA staff, as well as the board of directors, were unaware of the letter when it was written. This did not violate NSBA processes at the time, the report concluded, but represents a risk factor for the organization, according to the current NSBA chairman.
“Sending the letter without full board approval highlighted a concerning lack of internal process and accountability and undermined our organization’s mission,” Heim said. “While the events chronicled in the review are unfortunate, there are a number of important takeaways that will help our organization as we move forward.”
The report concluded that a draft letter had been shared with NSBA executives, but the entire NSBA board of directors did not learn of it until after it was sent to the White House.
“We regret that we did not review the letter more closely at the time,” said NSBA Board Chairman Frank S. Henderson, Jr. “We apologized in 2021 and acknowledged that the letter should never have been sent – the sentiments shared do not represent the views of the Board of Directors or the views of the NSBA We are now focused on implementing processes to ensure this does not happen again. “
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The NSBA said the review and changes to the organization will help it return to its core commitments of impartiality, advocacy for local control of public education and commitment to parent engagement. in public education.
Since the letter, the NSBA says it has implemented new communication protocols with Congress and the federal government, and has adopted statements of belief emphasizing impartiality and that “school boards must lead through engagement.” community, especially with the parents and guardians of the students they serve”.
Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, said the investigation shows an inexcusable breach of trust by the Biden administration.
“As a result of the NSBA’s internal investigation, the American people now know that Biden administration officials did indeed work with the NSBA on the since-retracted letter requesting federal intervention in school board issues,” he said. said Neily. “It is inexcusable that a senior White House adviser would have the audacity to collaborate on a public demand to use the Patriot Act against the families; it is, quite literally, a betrayal of the trust of the highest levels of government. While a number of questions remain – including the extent of Secretary Cardona’s involvement in this scandal – we hope those involved are held accountable for this betrayal of public trust.”