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Posts mischaracterize school board organization’s letter to Biden

October 5, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: The National School Boards Association is asking the Biden administration to label parents who protest school policies domestic terrorists.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The organization — the NSBA, for short — is not asking Biden to label parents who protest at school board meetings as terrorists. The NSBA asked the administration to do an interagency investigation of threats of violence against school board members and said the threats “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” Biden has yet to publicly comment on the issue, and there’s no indication he or the Department of Justice has called protesting parents “domestic terrorists,” despite false claims to that effect by social media users.

THE FACTS: Local school boards around the country have become political battlegrounds over issues such as COVID-19 mask rules, the treatment of transgender students and how to teach the history of racism and slavery in America, The Associated Press has reported.

The National School Boards Association, a non-profit representing U.S. school boards, said these disputes were also leading to harassment and threats of violence against school board members. On Sept. 29, the NSBA sent a letter to President Joe Biden, asking his administration to investigate these threats.

According to AP reporting, the NSBA’s letter documents more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states. It cites the September arrest of an Illinois man for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly striking a school official at a meeting.

But on Sept. 30, social media users took to Instagram to spread misinformation about the letter.

A popular Instagram post circulated widely last week, showing a screenshot of a tweet by Chris Rufo, an anti-critical race theory activist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “The National School Boards Association asked the feds to crack down on anti-critical race theory protests as ‘domestic terrorism,’” Rufo said in the screenshot image.

Another Instagram post shared a screenshot of a tweet by an account called Fight for Schools, which advocates for the full reopening of public schools and against the teaching of critical race theory.

“The National School Boards Association is asking the Biden administration to label parents who protest school policies as domestic terrorists,” the tweet said. An article from EdWeek is also shared as part of the tweet. “The White House should aid education leaders facing disruption and harassment over COVID-19 rules, a national group says,” the linked article says.

Rufo, in a comment emailed Thursday to The Associated Press, said the Biden administration is “using the FBI to suppress parents and criminalize dissent.”

In fact, the request for a law enforcement review did not come from the Biden administration. It came from the National School Boards Association, which, in its letter, requested that federal agencies conduct a review to “examine appropriate enforceable actions” in cases of “crimes and acts of violence.”

The NSBA says comments made by Rufo and Fight for Schools aren’t accurate because violence and threats are the issue, not protests from parents.

“This is absolutely false. NSBA and school board members don’t want to stop parents from expressing their First Amendment rights or label them as terrorists,” NSBA CEO Chip Slaven said in a statement emailed to the AP. “Our letter to President Biden was about stopping dangerous and threatening acts that school board members and other education leaders are receiving,” Slaven added.

NSBA’s letter to the Biden administration does state that threats against school board members “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes”that could be prosecuted under anti-terrorism and anti-hate crime statutes. But the NSBA has not asked Biden to label parents in any particular way. Rather, NSBA asked the federal government to assist local law enforcement in investigating the level of risk posed by threats.

“NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety,” the NSBA letter said.

The letter goes on to request that federal agencies coordinate with local law enforcement and provide them with training. The letter also asks the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intervene against threatening letters and cyberbullying attacks sent to teachers, students, school board members and district administrators.

“We want to stop the death threats, threats to family members, and other harassment and acts of intimidation,” Slaven said.

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This story has been updated to add comment from Chris Rufo.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.