POWAY, Calif. – The U.S. Department of Justice plans to address a rise in harassment and threats of violence made against school board officials and teachers in the country’s public schools.
On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys Office to meet with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to discuss how to address a trend the department calls “disturbing.”
The move comes after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for assistance and citing more than 20 recent incidents, including a Sept. 9 Poway Unified School District meeting that was disrupted by “Let Them Breathe” protesters.
“Our children are watching the examples of the current debates and we must encourage a positive dialogue already with different opinions,” the letter reads. “However, with such acute threats and actions that are disturbing to our students’ well-being, to the safety of public school officials and personnel, and to interstate commerce, we urge the federal government’s intervention against individuals or hate groups who are targeting our schools and educators.”
Darshana Patel, president of San Diego County School Boards Association and a member of the Poway Unified district board, attended the Sept. 9 meeting. She said protesters were verbally abusive to staff, using “threatening language” and “causing them a lot of distress.”
At one point, police had to be called, Patel said, and the meeting was adjourned prior to its scheduled conclusion.
“They pushed their way to the district office,” she said. “They weren’t supposed to be there and took over our public board meeting chambers.”
In a statement released following the meeting, the district said the “small, disturbing group forced their way inside the district office, pushing past staff.” They were asked to leave, but ultimately refused.
“The protesters not only prevented the Board from doing the business of the school district, which serves nearly 36,000 students, but also prevented recognition of our hardworking teachers, classified employees of the year, and student representatives,” the district’s statement reads.
Garland argued Monday that “threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s chief values.” His department’s efforts include creating a task force to determine how to prosecute crimes in addition as how to assist law enforcement when threats don’t rise to the level of a federal crime.
Specialized training and guidance also will be developed for local school boards and administrators, the department said.
Threats of violence against public schools officials can be reported by the FBI’s tip line at 1-800-225-5324 or online at fbi.gov/tips.
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