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Threats Against School Board Members Should Be Handled Locally

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week in announcing the U.S. Department of Justice would begin investigating threats against school board members, teachers and other school personnel. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

Garland is absolutely right. School officials should expect to go to work each day without fearing for their safety.

Right now, though, school board members and other school employees in some states are receiving threats from constituents who don’t agree with mask mandates for children. Threats of any type simply are unacceptable and, when they happen, should be investigated and prosecuted. But authorizing the full force and authority of the federal government to do so? That’s simply the wrong approach.

Issues with local school boards and local residents should be handled by local law enforcement and county prosecutors. That’s how the system is set up to work. Garland, though, has directed the DOJ to come up with a plan that could see federal prosecutors and the FBI get involved in these local matters. It is the wrong use of Department of Justice resources, and could lead to silencing those who otherwise would openly challenge — as is their right — public officials concerning the decisions they make.

It also appears, at least for New York, to be a solution in search of a problem. The vast majority of school board members in New York state (80%) have not experienced or witnessed violent acts or threats of violence against school officials at a school board meeting over the past 12 months, according to a poll by the New York State School Boards Association.

“We would hate to see an environment in which anybody – incumbents and potential board members alike – feels deterred from serving on their local boards of education since serving the public through school board service remains integral to grassroots democracy,” Schneider added.

In our view, the heavy handed stance by Garland only emboldens bad actors. The Department of Justice surely has more pressing issues. Local police agencies can handle any threats to local school board members as they arise – and local courts should be sure to make sure those who do make threats are punished appropriately.

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