School Boards Ask for Federal Help as Tensions Rise Over Covid-19 Policies

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Some have threatened violence against board members, the National School Boards Association said in a letter to President Biden.

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The group compared the threats to domestic terrorism or hate crimes and said that in some parts of the country local law enforcement needs federal assistance in dealing with and preventing the threats as they become more common.

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“It’s growing to a point where it’s now a real concern,” said NSBA interim executive director and CEO Chip Slaven. He said a rise in incidents over the past several weeks as the new school year begins, prompting the organization to seek help.

The group said opponents of the mask mandate have disrupted school board meetings, and some have threatened violence via mail to school board members. According to the letter, some have targeted students speaking in board meetings. The harassment has prompted some members of the school board, often volunteers serving in non-partisan roles, to resign or leave their positions at the end of their terms.

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At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic 19 months ago, more than 50 million children were sent home for in-person learning. The debate over reopening for in-person instruction was one of the most divisive battles of the pandemic, with more than 13,000 school districts across the country engaged in differing approaches and safety protocols.

School board members and district leaders were often tasked with making these decisions, and many followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for universal indoor masking for both students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. . At the same time, the governors of states including Arizona, Florida, South Carolina and Oklahoma made masks mandatory in schools, saying parents should make the choice. Lawsuits challenged many of those actions, and the Department of Education launched investigations in five states that banned the mask requirement after parents with disabilities and children with medical conditions raised concerns. . Advocates of the restrictions say they protect citizens’ rights to make their own health decisions.

At the beginning of the summer, there was a sense of optimism among some teachers, district leaders and parents that the 2021-22 academic year would be the same as before the pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines that help prevent serious illness were widely available to teachers and students 12 years of age and older.

Many districts which were closed for individual learning for the past one year were reopened. But the highly permeable delta variant, lower-than-average vaccine rates in some parts of the country and the fact that no vaccine has been authorized for use in children under the age of 12, have been in line with their COVID-19 safety protocols. scrambling to re-adjust. Students returned to classes.

The vitriol faced by district leaders has intensified because of face-mask requirements and vaccine mandates, said Dan Domenek, executive director of the School Superintendent’s Association, AASA. It has seen the highest turnover in the nation’s school districts superintendents in their careers, he said.

“It never reached the level of violence that we see now,” said Mr Domenek, whose organization last week issued a statement with the NSBA about the issue. “It’s ugly,” he said.

The NSBA is specifically seeking help from federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and the National Threat Assessment Center. Mr Slaven said agencies could use their resources to gather information and analyze threats in coordination with local law-enforcement officials.

The association is also asking the US Postal Service to monitor threats sent by mail to students, teachers, board members and other school staff.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing Thursday that the administration takes threats from school board members seriously.

“We are continuing to find out what else can be done with the entire administration,” Ms. Saki said. “But, again, a lot of this will be local law enforcement and how they can help these school board members feel safe.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr Slaven said the department and White House staff accepted the letter on Thursday.

Mr Slaven said he hoped the group’s letter would encourage those who disagree with the school board’s position to proceed to express their disapproval as appropriate.

“Whatever your opinion on these things, our kids are paying attention to what the adults are doing right now,” he said. “We need to treat each other decently.”

Write to Jennifer Calfas at [email protected]

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