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Wisconsin Association of School Boards breaks from national group after letter to Joe Biden
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WISCONSIN ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS

Wisconsin Association of School Boards breaks from national group after letter to Joe Biden

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The Wisconsin Association of School Boards announced Tuesday it will withdraw its participation from the National School Boards Association after the national group issued and then rescinded a letter to President Joe Biden characterizing threats school board members across the country have received as “domestic terrorism.”

According to a notice sent out to WASB members on Tuesday, the state association’s board of directors voted Friday to withdraw the association’s participation in NSBA programs and activities.

“The board did not take this action lightly,” the email read. “Unfortunately, the NSBA needlessly caused substantial controversy this fall, which has negatively impacted relationships among school boards, parents and community members.”

“Those actions do not align with WASB policies and programs nor its mission to support, promote and advance public education,” the note continued.

In September, the NSBA sent a letter to Biden that said public schools and education leaders are “under immediate threat.” The letter pointed to an increase in threats made by the public toward public school officials and asked Biden to use federal agencies to investigate and protect those officials.

The letter also outlined more than a dozen examples of threats made toward school board members during meetings by members of the public across the country, and cited an incident that occurred in Oshkosh in August that caused a local school board to abruptly end a meeting after an argument broke out over COVID-19 masking requirements.

After the letter was submitted, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo outlining steps to protect school board members against threats, including working with local law enforcement. The national group issued a follow-up statement saying “we regret and apologize” for the letter.

WASB communications director Sheri Krause did not reply to a request for clarification as to whether the agency’s decision was directly related to the letter, but reiterated that the WASB board of directors suspended the association’s participation in the NSBA’s programs and activities while it monitors NSBA’s progress and receives member input.

In October, WASB released a statement of its own that condemned a growing number of threats against school board members across the state related to COVID-19 regulations and other hot-button political issues.

Discussion of COVID-19 mitigation protocols, such as mask mandates in the Beaver Dam and Oshkosh school districts, prompted a number of threats against school board members in the state. Members of the public also threatened the Waukesha School Board after they voted unanimously to opt out of a federal program that offered free meals to all students, in order to reinstate a free and reduced meal plan for economically disadvantaged students.

In its October statement, WASB acknowledged recent “isolated incidents” that involved threats to the personal safety of school board members.

“Such threats cannot and should not be tolerated,” it said.

A national conservative activist group, Parents Defending Education, celebrated WASB’s decision to withdraw from National School Board Association programs and activities.

In an October press release, the organization said its members “emailed 47 state school board associations for comment on the NSBA’s September 29 letter.” In their emails, the activist group asked state board associations if they have commented on the NSBA’s September letter and instructed them to reach out to the national school board group regarding the letter’s “tone and substance.”

Emails from the conservative activist group also asked the 47 state school board associations to define “intimidation,” “harassment,” and “threat,” and whether or not they plan to “report individuals in your state to the U.S. Department of Justice” or if they feel local law enforcement agencies are able to adequately address concerns regarding threats against local school board members.

As of Nov. 9, 26 states have distanced themselves from the NSBA’s letter, according to Parents Defending Education, including 10 that have withdrawn membership, participation or dues from NSBA.

The NSBA did not respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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