U.S. Justice Department will examine threats against school officials


The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) is reporting that on Oct. 4, the U.S. Department of Justice directed the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state and local law enforcement leaders to respond to what are described as increasing threats of violence against school board members, teachers and public school workers.

According to the NJSBA, the move came less than a week after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) wrote a letter to President Joseph Biden urging the federal government to help education officials respond to harassment, threats and criminal conduct, which have increased as school districts enact mask mandates and quarantine policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The topic of critical race theory has also been a point of contention among parents, educators and school board members.

The National School Boards Association praised the Justice Department’s announcement, noting in a news release, “The U.S. Department of Justice’s swift action in response to NSBA’s request is a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students and communities they serve.

“We need to get back to the work of meeting all students’ needs and making sure each student is prepared for a successful future. That’s what school board members and parents care about.”

The New Jersey School Boards Association reported the developments in its regular weekly update. The association referred to a memorandum that was issued by U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland wrote in a memorandum announcing the measures. “Those who dedicated their time and energy to ensuring 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’s additional efforts are expected to include the creation of a task force, consisting of representatives from the department’s Criminal Division, National Security Division, Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the Community Relations Service and the Office of Justice programs, to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes – and ways to assist law enforcement when threats of violence may constitute federal crimes, according to a Department of Justice news release.

The Justice Department will create specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators that will help school board members and other potential victims understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct and how to capture and preserve evidence to aid investigators and prosecutors.

The NSBA’s letter to Biden, dated Sept. 30,  asked for federal assistance to stop what it said were threats and acts of violence against public school children, public school board members and other public school district officials and educators.

The NSBA’s letter said local school board members want to hear from their communities about important issues and acknowledged that such feedback is at the heart of good school board governance and promotion of free speech.

However, the national association said there “must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.”