On tumultuous school board meetings, McConnell, Garland paint different pictures

Oct 12, 2021

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says parents “absolutely should be telling their local schools what to teach.” The letter comes in response to a Justice Department memo signaling new steps to address harassment of school officials.

A crowd of angry, largely unmasked people objecting to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' mask mandate for schools shouts in opposition to wearing a face covering at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.
Credit AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte

With tensions boiling over in school board meetings on highly-charged issues spanning masks to officers in schools to critical race theory, it’s heated confrontations between parents and school officials that have the attention of the attorney general.

Garland issued a memo directing the FBI and US attorneys’ offices to meet with federal, state, and local law enforcement to discuss strategies for dealing with what he calls a “disturbing" trend.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Attorney General Garland wrote. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

But Sen. McConnell maintains the memo’s "ominous rhetoric" doesn’t accurately portray the prevailing environment at school board meetings.

The Republican casts the sometimes hostile exchanges as parents taking a “grassroots interest” in their children’s education, while noting that "violence, threats of violence, and other criminal behavior are always wrong." The situations involving altercations appear “isolated” and have dealt with effectively by local authorities, McConnell argues in the letter.

Garland has said his office is committed to using its authority to “discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate.” According to a Justice Department release, the extra steps include the creation of a task force to determine, in part, how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute the crimes in question, along with specialized training for local school boards and administrators. 

"This training will help school board members and other potential victims understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and how to capture and preserve evidence of threatening conduct to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes," the release said.