“Education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the National School Boards Association wrote in a letter to Joe Biden this week detailing incidents that have unfolded across the country.
“Education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the National School Boards Association—the representative body for more than 90,000 school board members in the U.S.—wrote this week in a letter addressed to Joe Biden.
The reason? Conservative activists who oppose COVID safety protocols and the teaching of “critical race theory in schools.”
In a strongly worded appeal, the NSBA described the widespread harassment, threats, and violence that public school officials are currently facing from so-called culture warriors and asked the White House to use federal law enforcement resources to address the issue.
“Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues, and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech,” they added. “However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.”
In the Biden era, school board meetings have become a particularly fraught political battlefield. Right-wing activists have used the gatherings to voice their outrage around mask mandates, COVID vaccine policies, and courses that teach students about the history of racism in America.
In June, a routine school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia, ended in chaos after attendees opposed to so-called critical race theory curriculum accused educators of “teaching racism” to children and began chanting “shame on you,” leading board members to walk out.
According to Reuters, two protesters were handcuffed by police and removed from the building. Tensions have only worsened amid the start of the 2021–22 school year.
In Franklin, Tennessee, anti-mask protesters reportedly assembled outside of an August school board meeting and began accusing officials of “child abuse,” with one person yelling, “We will find you and we know who you are!” and another vowing that the board members “will never be allowed in public again.”
Nor are these scenes—many of which are enumerated in the NSBA’s letter—likely to dissipate as COVID continues to rage. Amid the rise of the delta variant, some educators are returning to remote classes while others, per the CDC’s recommendation, have implemented indoor mask mandates for all teachers, staff, and students—a safety measure that is particularly important at primary schools, given that children under 12 are not yet cleared for vaccination against COVID-19.
However, the Republican governors of Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, have signed executive orders or state bills to ban mask mandates at public schools, turning a common sense preventative measure into a hot-button political issue.
The same is true of critical race theory, the teaching of which the NSBA noted is a wildly misplaced concern. Such curriculum “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 group wrote.
The uptick in violent threats parallels the goings-on in local politics, where election officials have found themselves under siege from right-wing true believers. Officials across the country told The Washington Post last month that the threats have come thick and fast—and could have a very real impact on how the next election is conducted.
“The complaints, the threats, the abuse, the magnitude of the pressure—it’s too much,’” Susan Nash, a city clerk in Livonia, Michigan, told the outlet.
As Gabriel Sterling, a top Republican election official in Georgia, put it in December, shortly before the January 6 storming of the Capitol brought that sentiment to a boiling point: “Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right.”