President Joe Biden’s top law enforcement official has made a mountain out a molehill, and as a result, school administrators may threaten parents who are speaking up on behalf of their children.
On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland released a memorandum describing how the Federal Bureau of Investigation will coordinate with law enforcement agencies across the country to address threats to school administrators and school board members.
The memo states that there has been a “disturbing spike” in the harassment of school staff and a “rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.” Alas, there is no evidence of a rise in the memorandum or references to where one could find evidence of it.
No actual proof of increased violence
One can find evidence in a Sept. 29 letter from the National School Board Association to Biden documenting “heinous actions” that “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
If one reads the letter, one finds people clearly raising their voices, which is normal when people are discussing things that matter to them. When parents or community members cross the line into threats, local law enforcement has handled the situation. There is no quantitative data in the letter; instead, there are a bunch of disparate stories strung together to make it look like there is a pattern.
For example, the letter reports that in two school board meetings, “an individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements” and another person “prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory.” These acts are disruptive and inappropriate, but democracy is not a graduate school seminar, and parents are allowed to express themselves to elected school board members. Schools should want parents invested in the well-being of their children.
When I asked for evidence of a rising threat on social media, people shared with me stories that are unified mostly by Democratic outrage at conservative activists. For example, in Penfield Central School District in upstate New York in June, a parent yelled at a school board member to “be respectful” and “this isn’t about you, bud,” at which point the board member called the parent an expletive. The parent told a reporter, “I’m a passionate parent and there were many others in the room and we all felt kind of disrespected by his cavalier attitude toward our comments.”
Knowing just a little bit about this story, I am more sympathetic to the parent than to the allegedly “f-bomb” dropping school board member. Regardless, I think it is outrageous for the attorney general to meddle in situations that are local in nature and, so far, have led to incredibly few acts of overt violence, certainly not with the character of domestic terrorism.
Given that countries around the world are exempting children, with varying age cutoffs, from wearing masks in classrooms, parents are allowed to ask, with passion in their voice, why their own children must wear them in public schools.
The threat, in short, appears to be mostly a figment of Democratic imagination.
Schools will threaten parents with FBI
What is the attorney general’s plan to address this phantom threat? He has directed the FBI to coordinate with law enforcement agencies and 14,000 public school districts to formulate “strategies for addressing threats” and opening “dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting.”
The Constitution does not enumerate education as a federal power, and states and local school districts have the responsibility for keeping students safe. The FBI started in 1908 mostly as a response to organized crime, but it has been repurposed several times to address threats that cross state lines. In its history, particularly during J. Edgar Hoover’s era, the FBI often abused its power, including trying to “discredit, disrupt, and destroy” civil rights organizations.
To be clear, the FBI has stopped real terrorist threats. My point here is that the use of the FBI to monitor school board meetings is an incredible expansion of the federal government’s police power.
And what will likely happen when the FBI trains school administrators and school board members to be on the lookout for threats? Odds are, they will call the FBI to report parents who are irate about things like masks or the curriculum.
Just as people are more likely to use a weapon if it is in easy reach, irate administrators and school board members may call the FBI on parents who are bothering them. This action, or the possibility of it, will prompt parents to stop participating in school activities.
When parents are less involved, parents have more negative attitudes to their children’s schools, losing trust in government and general, and becoming skeptical of the government’s ability to address social problems. That’s according to research that looked at how standardized testing alienates parents from their children’s schools. But I’d predict other sources of alienation – like administrators reporting on parents – will have the same effect.
Without more evidence of real threats, Biden’s political appointee appears to be making a political decision rather than a prudent one.
Nicholas Tampio is a professor of political science at Fordham University.