Florida & National school boards associations spar over safety concerns

A recent letter from the National School Boards Association to President Joe Biden was met with backlash from state and local school board officials.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A recent letter from the National School Boards Association to President Joe Biden was met with backlash from state and local school board officials.

The Sept. 29 letter said that public school boards across the country are facing unprecedented “threats of violence and acts of intimidation,” specifically pointing to both coronavirus recovery operations and a false narrative about the inclusion of critical race theory in the curriculum as causes for the escalating contention.

“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 letter said. “As our school boards continue coronavirus recovery operations within their respective districts, they are also persevering against other challenges that could impede this progress in a number of communities.”

The association asked the Biden administration for a joint effort of federal, state and local law enforcement resources to address the threats, including those of the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service and the National Threat Assessment Center.

The NSBA also asked for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to check on threatening letters and cyberbullying attacks.

“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the NSBA letter said.

The letter received strong backlash, including from Bev Slough, who serves on the NSBA’s board of directors and on the St. Johns County School Board.

“We have had people speak with a lot of passion at our own board meetings, but not to the extent that we need federal law enforcement to come help us maintain order,” Slough told News4Jax. “We’re doing quite well, with local control, thank you very much.”

Slough, who clarified that she was not speaking for the entire NSBA board of directors, said the board was not informed about the letter’s contents before ti was sent to the White House.

The Florida School Boards Association, an NSBA chapter, also blasted the letter and called for an examination of the leadership of its parent association.

According to Slough, the FBSA is one of 13 units across the county that withheld chapter dues earlier this year over a series of disagreements.

In a response co-authored by Slough, the FSBA demanded that the national association acknowledge that the letter was a mistake and that it discounted the work being done by local law enforcement.

“Not only has it unnecessarily distracted from the important work being carried out by our members, it has strained important local and state collaborative relationships our members have worked hard to build and maintain for years,” the FSBA response said. “This includes our Governor, Legislature, local law enforcement, communities, and our members questioning our commitment to the First Amendment rights of citizens, which we believe is the bedrock of democracy and would always protect.”

In Florida school districts where mask mandates have been imposed have seen particularly contentious school board meetings, as parents and stakeholders clashed over the methods those districts are using to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In Duval County’s school district, which imposed a mask mandate, Duval County School Board chair Elizabeth Andersen released a statement, saying the NSBA’s letter “does not necessarily reflect the views” of the Duval County School Board.

“As a Board, we are committed to serving our students, families, and the community. We appreciate the engagement we’ve seen during several contentious issues before us this year. Even when we don’t all agree, listening to one another can only make us stronger and helps us be more effective as a governing body.

Although there are times when individuals may speak or behave in less civil ways, we are grateful for our School Police and our partnership with the Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office which has done a great job maintaining public safety through all of our recent topics and issues.

While other School Boards across the state and country may be having different experiences, the NSBA letter does not necessarily reflect the views of our local school board. During the workshop this week, our Board discussed drafting a resolution in response that will likely be presented in an upcoming meeting and will reflect our position on the matter.”

Elizabeth Andersen, Chair, Duval County School Board

Slough said the NSBA is set to hold meetings on Sunday and the following Thursday and that the letters will likely be discussed. Slough was hesitant to predict what that conversation will entail.