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Butcher & Gonzalez: Biden’s Justice Department clueless that censoring parents is sure to end badly

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It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true: A progressive education association wants parents attending school board meetings to be treated like terrorists. 

It has asked President Joe Biden to criminalize parent opposition to Critical Race Theory and COVID mandates, a burgeoning grassroots movement that has caught radicals by surprise.

The move to suppress First Amendment rights came from the National School Boards Association (NSBA), which organizes school board members. It wants the Biden administration to use “extraordinary measures” initially created to deal with foreign threats to now intimidate parents and “preserve public school infrastructure,” according to the group’s recent letter to the White House.

The group wants the Biden administration to invoke the PATRIOT Act and create a posse that includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and National Threat Assessment Center to protect them against parents—the very people school boards are responsible for representing in their local communities.

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And the Biden Justice Department has quickly responded to the NSBA’s request to criminalize political opposition and strong-arm Americans. U.S. Attorney Gen. Merrick Garland will meet with federal, state and local officials to “discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend.”

Parents have a lot to say, however, and they should not be harassed.

Over the last year, parents have been attending school board meetings in large numbers to object to prolonged closures, as well as educators’ use of Critical Race Theory to promote racial prejudice. To most Americans, even those who may disagree with them, they are family, friends and neighbors advocating on behalf of their children. To the NSBA, they’re “current threats.”

If anything, it is parents who sometimes must fear vindictive reprisals or censorship by school board members. In Loudoun County, Virginia, this year, members of the school board formed a Facebook group to investigate and dox parents who dared speak against CRT. Reports from Indiana, Minnesota, Virginia,and Wisconsin to name only a few, find that board members are no longer including time on meeting agendas for or are otherwise suspending public comment.

Both school board members and meeting attendees are responsible for keeping the meetings civil. NSBA’s accusations that parents are a problem shows utter contempt for parents pouring into school board meetings to have their voices heard.

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Censoring parents is sure to end badly. For parents to care about school children in their communities is a healthy, all-American development. Voter turnout for school board elections has been modest for years, hovering around 10 percent. The new interest should be celebrated, not criminalized.

Parents want to know what is being taught to their students—as they should. School boards have the responsibility for directing important district operations, including curricular choices and other district operational policies. Yet board members have grown accustomed to “sleepy and ill-attended public meetings,” according to USA Today, and are “reeling” to find parents upset at COVID-related policies and educators’ application of critical race theory’s racially prejudicial ideas in K-12 classrooms. 

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According to national polling, 70 percent of a nationally representative sample of parents say they do not want schools to teach children that their skin color is the most important thing about them. 

State lawmakers around the U.S. agree and are considering proposals that say no public official can compel a teacher or student to believe or profess an idea that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

School officials, on the other hand, are using discriminatory activities in schools based on critical race theory. This includes schools in Portland, Oregon, where videos of a public school critical race theory working group are available on YouTube.com; Evanston, Illinois, where a teacher is suing the district over mandatory racial affinity groups; and Hayward Unified School District in California, where school officials posted a note on the district website saying they would teach CRT.

NSBA promotes CRT and has urged the Biden administration to reinstate racially discriminatory workforce development programs that President Donald Trump’s administration abolished last fall. Given the public’s rejection of CRT and state lawmakers’ efforts to prohibit racial discrimination, its positions do not reflect the interests of families or policymakers.

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Parents are not to be trifled with. According to Axios, more than twice as many board recall elections or campaigns were held or initiated between January and July 2021 than during all of last year. 

NSBA should not be worried about parents attending meetings—they should be worried about voters headed to the ballot box.

Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy and the Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum fellow. His most recent book is “The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free” (Encounter Books, July 28, 2020).

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