School board association calls on Biden to help with escalating ‘threats and violence’ at meetings

Indiana

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In a letter to President Joe Biden, the National School Boards Association (NBSA) has asked for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates.

The association represents more than 90,000 school board members in 14,000 public school districts. This letter comes as a number of school board meetings around the country have grown contentious in recent months over mask mandates and other COVID-19 protocols.

“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,” the NBSA wrote in the letter.

“I haven’t witnessed anything like this in my 30 years or so in the public education, K-12 education arena, and it’s shocking,” said Terry Spradlin, the Executive Director of the Indiana School Boards Association. “This isn’t happening everywhere in our state, but in some communities it’s very prevalent, and it is has risen to the level of shock and concern.”

Spradlin noted instances of Indiana school board members recieving threatening emails or being chased to their cars by groups of people.

“Which is very threatening,” said Spradlin. “Of course, the extreme example in Indiana is where the gun fell out of the patrons pocket at one school board meeting. In other places the citizens have commandeered the podium.”

Locally, just over a week ago, the Northwest Allen County Schools (NACS) board paused the public comment period of its regular meetings “due to safety concerns.”

However, that didn’t seem to solve the issue. One woman was “cited in court” last Tuesday for trespassing during the district’s meeting last Monday night, according to the Allen County Sheriff’s Department.

Threats toward school board members typically are handled by local law enforcement. However, in the letter, the association asked for the federal government to get involved to investigate cases where threats or violence could be handled as violations of federal laws protecting civil rights.

It also asked for the Justice Department, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Service to help monitor threat levels and assess risks to students, educators, board members and school buildings.

The letter asking for the government’s assistance is a move Spradlin said is “well intended,” but called an “overreach.”

“Our school boards are already working with local law enforcement and many school districts have what we call school resource officers or police on staff that can help ensure orderly, school board meeting,” said Spradlin. “So, I think we already have the tools to deal with this at the state local level without federal intervention.”

Spradlin said he encourages all school boards across the state to make sure they have consistent policy practices where everyone can be heard. If it’s not possible for that to happen in a civil manner, he recommends districts suspend public comment like NACS did.

He also wanted to remind Hoosiers that everyone seems to have a common goal of keeping students in the classroom.

“We know that the best learning opportunity for children is with a licensed instructor in the classroom and so our goal here is to keep kids in school and do all that it takes to make that happen,” said Spradlin.

Both Southwest Allen County and East Allen County Schools have board meetings scheduled for Tuesday night.

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