Republican lawmakers call for ISBA to shed national affiliation

Rep. Dorothy Moon (left) and Sen. Christy Zito (right) walk through the Idaho Statehouse maskless on Monday, Jan. 11, the start of the 2021 legislative session. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

Republican state legislators called on the Idaho School Boards Association to cut ties with its national affiliate on Tuesday, lamenting a recent move by the national group that has sparked ongoing GOP outcry on Capitol Hill.

Thirty-five lawmakers signed a letter to ISBA decrying the National School Boards Association’s politically sensitive request: that federal law enforcement crack down on members of the public who harass or intimidate school board members.

NSBA has since apologized for the wording of its ask, made in a letter that, as Education Week reported, called the White House to review whether “threats or actual acts of violence” by school board attendees could constitute “domestic terrorism” under the USA PATRIOT Act, a post-9/11 counterterrorism law.

The lawmakers, predominately representatives from Idaho’s more-conservative House, said NSBA’s apology “in no way changes the need for the ISBA to withdraw its membership.”

“The NSBA already revealed their desires, making this apology seem insincere and forced,” lawmakers wrote.

ISBA had already distanced itself from the national group’s move, as lawmakers acknowledged Tuesday. The state lobbying group for trustees had previously said it wasn’t asked for input on NSBA’s letter and wasn’t notified that the request for federal involvement would be sent to the White House. In an Oct. 13 statement, ISBA wrote, “we do not seek the involvement of federal law enforcement in local decisions.”

But ISBA will maintain its national affiliation, at least for now.

Responding to lawmakers in a letter Thursday, ISBA said it will “very carefully monitor the actions and conduct of NSBA” but argued Idaho’s values and perspective must be included at the national level via its NSBA membership, “now, more than ever.”

Idaho school boards have been rocked by protests, related police responses and outbursts from meeting goers over the last 18 months. NSBA acknowledged the roots of this national and state-level strife — pandemic protocols and the perception that public schools contain leftist teachings — in its request to the feds.

But Idaho lawmakers and the ISBA have both accused the NSBA of going too far. And school boards associations in at least Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania have rescinded their national memberships over the issue.

The web of rifts comes around three weeks before ISBA’s annual conference in mid-November, and before the Legislature returns to town the same week.

A timeline and a paper trail

Sept. 29-NSBA writes to President Joe Biden. In a letter addressed to the President, NSBA asked for support from federal law enforcement in handling a “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation” at school board meetings. The request — and language it used — ignited backlash among congressional Republicans and some NSBA members.

Oct. 4-DOJ vows to respond. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo, directing the FBI to meet with federal, state and local leaders to discuss how threats against school staff and officials should be addressed and reported.

Oct. 13-ISBA condemns letter to Biden. The state group requested a formal apology from its national counterpart, and a review of NSBA’s processes around consulting members.

Oct. 22-NSBA apologizes. The national organization said “there was no justification for some of the language in the letter it sent,” and expressed “regret” for sending it. The organization in a memo to state school boards associations announced it would review its processes and procedures and improve the way it consults and communicates with its members across the country.

Oct. 26-Lawmakers write to ISBA. They urged ISBA to pull its membership, “as it will be a clear statement concerning the NSBA’s stance regarding parents and stakeholders.”

Oct. 27-ISBA responds to lawmakers. Group leaders said they “greatly value the voices of active and involved parents,” but will stay in the national association for now.

The same day, Garland doubles down. The Attorney General defended his memo geared at quelling threats against school staff and officials. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., the Democratic official pointed to “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” as Republican senators pushed him to rescind the memo, the Associated Press reported.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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