Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Monday issued a memo directing the FBI to convene meetings with local officials nationwide to combat growing violence and threats directed at school officials. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland has directed the FBI to address the increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence directed toward school administrators, board members, teachers and staff amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Justice Department said Monday.
In a memo addressed to leading law enforcement officials, Garland ordered the FBI to work with U.S. attorneys to hold meetings with federal, state, local and tribal leaders within 30 days to develop strategies to address the violence directed at school employees and open communication lines for threats to be reported.
"Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation's core values," Garland wrote in the memo. "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."
The Justice Department added in a statement that it will also be creating specialized training and guidance for school boards and administrators to aid them to understand what constitutes a threat, how to report threatening conduct and how to capture and preserve evidence for the investigation and potential prosecution.
The announcement follows the National School Boards Association having sent President Joe Biden a letter requesting federal assistance to stop the threats of violence against school children, school board members and other public school officials.
The officials have experienced the spike in violence as they approve policies to stymie the spread of COVID-19 and amid a campaign stating they are teaching critical race theory.
"Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula," the BSBA said in the letter. "This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class."
The letter highlights school board meetings being disrupted in California, Florida, Georgia and other states because of mask directives while highlighting more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation that have occurred during such meetings targeting school officials.
"An individual was arrested in Illinois for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct during a school board meeting," the letter said. "During two separate school board meetings in Michigan, an individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements, and another individual prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory."
Meetings were forced to end because of angry mobs and others were thrown into chaos because of anti-mask proponents, they said.
The violence comes as several Republican-led states have sought to pass legislation to prevent schools from mandating masks and to bar them from teaching critical race theory.
The NSBA on Monday said the Department of Justice's "swift action" sends a strong message to those who seek to delve schools into chaos and divide communities.
The threats of violence that have included death threats from some who are not even involved in the schools are "drowning out the voices of parents who must be heard" concerning decisions that affect their children, Chip Slaven, NSBA interim executive director and chief executive, said in a statement.
"We need to get back to the work of meeting all students' needs and making sure that each student is prepared for a successful future," Slaven said. "That's what school board members and parents care about."