© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri School Boards’ Association withdraws from national organization over a letter to Biden

School buses wait outside Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri, to take students home from the first day of classes.
Rudi Keller
/
Missouri Independent
School buses wait outside Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri, to take students home from the first day of classes.

The Missouri School Boards’ Association withdrew from its parent organization last week over a letter the national organization sent calling for federal intervention to address acts of “domestic terrorism” at hostile school board meetings nationwide.

Missouri School Boards’ Association members were informed of the decision in a letter sent Monday afternoon. The group’s executive director, Melissa Randol, wrote that the National School Boards Association “has demonstrated it does not currently align with MSBA’s guiding principles of local governance.”

The state association's executive committee recommended last week that the organization’s board of directors withdraw from the National School Boards Association and the decision was made during a special meeting Friday morning, said Brent Ghan, MSBA’s deputy executive director. The national association did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about MSBA’s decision.

While no school board member or educators should receive threats of violence for the decisions they make for students, attempting to address harassment with federal intervention “is antithetical to our longstanding tradition of local control” and should not be the first step in most cases, Randol wrote in the letter.

A copy was obtained by The Independent.

Additionally, “inflammatory terms” in the national organization’s letter “is not a model for promoting greater civility and respect for the democratic process,” Randol wrote.

In a Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden, the National School Boards Association president and its interim executive director and CEO likened threats and violence against school officials “to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

School board meetings nationwide have become increasingly hostile over debates on topics like COVID mitigation measures and critical race theory, and have resulted in some board members quitting their positions.

The organization called on Biden to direct law enforcement agencies, like the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations to take action, including reviewing whether enforcement should be taken under laws like the PATRIOT Act — which was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Ghan said neither MSBA nor any of the the other state school board associations were consulted prior to the letter’s release.

“The letter did come as a surprise to us,” Ghan said.

MSBA is not the only state chapter to pull its membership, with school board associations in Ohio and Pennsylvania also announcing their withdrawal from the national organization. The Florida chapter announced it would refuse to pay membership dues.

The National School Boards Association has since apologized to its members. In a Friday letter, the national organization apologized for some of the language it used in its September letter and “for the strain and stress this situation has caused.”

Randol wrote in her letter to Missouri school boards that the apology is a step in the right direction, but that national association still has “significant work ahead” to prevent similar issues in the future and repair fractured relationships.

MSBA’s decision to sever ties with the National School Boards Association follows pushback the parent organization has received nationwide after its September letter, including from Missouri Republicans.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Schmitt joined a coalition of state attorneys general urging the U.S. Department of Justice to withdraw a memo advising the Federal Bureau of Investigations to coordinate strategies to address threats against educators.

Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, also sent a letter of his own to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and urged the Biden Administration to “prioritize parents over school bureaucrats.”

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley called on Garland to resign and praised MSBA for withdrawing from the national organization.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson also applauded MSBA’s decision and said it showed Missouri schools take parents' First Amendment rights seriously.

“We appreciate MSBA standing up for our students, teachers, and parents alike and recognizing that Missouri will play no part in criminalizing concerned parents,” Parson said.

In a letter posted to Facebook earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden called on MSBA to clarify its stance. Rowden asked whether MSBA believed concerned parents are domestic terrorists and if they “should be punished with the same tools used to punish the perpetrators of the September 11 Attack, the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on American soil?”

Rowden is mulling a run for Congress, and on Monday, he teased a potential announcement on Nov. 8, changing his Facebook cover photo to read “The Next Chapter.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.