The DOJ Should Not Chill Democratic Participation At Boards of Education


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Democratic participation is a hallmark of a free society. It is good for Americans to be involved in every level of their government. That is why recent actions from the Department of Justice and Attorney General Garland are concerning.

On September 29th the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Biden, asking him to address acts of violence against school board members. In their letter, they cited several instances of threats against school board members in many states. On October 4th, the Department of Justice announced that it would be addressing “criminal conduct” at school board meetings around the nation. The problem with this effort is not that the DOJ is addressing crimes, but the light in which its statement casts parents.

The threats themselves against school board members are abhorrent. School board seats are often unpaid positions taken with a genuine interest in preparing future generations of Americans for their future. These threats come after months of long and drawn-out protests against a wide range of issues primarily focusing on the teaching of Critical Race Theory in classrooms.  Although the vast majority of these protests have been focused on the teaching of CRT, many parents are also up in arms about other policies. In Loudoun County, Virginia, for example, parents are protesting a transgender bathroom policy that they say led to the rape of a student.  

At times, confrontations between members of the public and school board officials have gotten contentious and violent, but the vast majority have been peaceful.  The National School Boards Association’s letter cited only 2 or 3 instances of actual violence.  The other instances cited were instances of hate or disruption of meetings that caused meetings to be adjourned, which is burdensome and sometimes disgusting (especially when parents compared mask mandates to the holocaust). Nevertheless, they are not instances of violence.

The Department of Justice’s announcement that it would have a role in preventing these threats is troubling. The DOJ’s memorandum says “​​the Justice Department will launch a series of additional efforts in the coming days designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”  Very little criminal conduct has been occurring as the NSBA noted in their letter.  The “rise” cited by the DOJ is not a rise, it is just highly publicized infrequent instances of violence in a highly polarized political context. Furthermore, the DOJ has no authority in matters of state criminal conduct. These threats, while concerning, are supposed to be handled at a state level.

It is no secret that the Biden administration is in favor of the policies most parents are protesting against. Therefore, it’s no surprise the executive branch has become so interested in these state issues. By saying it will step in, the Department of Justice is discouraging parents from speaking out at these public meetings. It lumps regular parents in with the wrongdoers all in the name of preventing violence which is rare to begin with. For that, the DOJ is no better than the criminals they intend to catch. Not once in their memorandum from October 4th did they acknowledge that most people at these meetings are not doing anything wrong. Rather, they decided to cast all parents who take a legitimate interest in their child’s future as domestic terrorists who are threatening people when they don’t get their way.

When I sat on the Ramapo Indian Hills Regional School District’s Board of Education as a student representative, I attended nearly every meeting. I saw mundane meetings that lasted no longer than an hour and I sat in meetings in which dozens of parents and students came out to voice their opinions on pressing issues. It wasn’t usually COVID or Critical Race Theory being discussed, but that doesn’t mean the issues addressed were any less pertinent. Concerned parents taking an interest in what is going on in their child’s school is exactly how a free society is supposed to operate.

It is imperative that we not discourage anyone from participating in democracy. The Department of Justice needs to back off and let states take the lead in these investigations. Even if it wasn’t their intention, the DOJ’s statement cast every parent and student who takes issue with what is going on in their school as a domestic terrorist. The vast majority of these parents are simply concerned, and they should not be chastised for that. Let the states investigate these issues of violence and prosecute the real criminals to the fullest extent of the law because they are ruining the democratic process. When the process works properly, with people being active participants in their schooling, free from intimidation, then the community is better off.

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Anthony Ilardi is a political science major at Clemson University. There he is an undergraduate senate clerk representing the undergraduate student body and a member of the mock trial team. He hopes to take his experiences in Student Government to the real world someday.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Anthony Ilardi

Anthony Ilardi is a political science major at Clemson University. There he is an undergraduate senate clerk representing the undergraduate student body and a member of the mock trial team. He hopes to take his experiences in Student Government to the real world someday.

ailardi8 on Instagram @ailardi8

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