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South Carolina Educators Bolt From National Group In Dispute Over COVID Letter

November 10, 2021 by Dan McCue
Students catch their bus on Sept. 7, 2021. (Andrew Rush /Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A group representing school boards across South Carolina has withdrawn from its national parent organization in a dispute over a letter related to threats on school board members by those opposed to COVID-19 mandates in schools.

The South Carolina School Boards Association voted Friday to withdraw from the National School Board Association following calls from the chief majority whip of the state House of Representatives and 34 other House members that it do so.

At issue is a Sept. 29 letter the national association wrote to President Joe Biden expressing concerns about the safety of school board members and educators in the wake of threats and attacks from those opposing COVID-19 policies in schools.

“Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and

that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech,” the six-page letter said in part. “However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.

“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 continued. “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. 

“Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula,” the letter said. “This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.”

The letter cites more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation that have transpired during school board meetings and that are targeted at school officials. 

It also says that while local and state law enforcement agencies have worked hard to protect public school officials and restore order, some jurisdictions need assistance, especially around monitoring threat levels. 

To prevent further harm, the association asked that a joint effort be undertaken among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and public school officials to focus on threats made during public school board meetings, via documented threats transmitted through the U.S. Postal Service, across social media and other online platforms, and around personal properties.

Among those angered by the letter was Russell Fry, the chief majority whip of the state House of Representatives, who represents a district in the northeast corner of the state.

In a series of Facebook posts, Fry, who has announced his intention to primary incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Rice in 2022, tore a page from the successful Virginia gubernatorial campaign of Glenn Youngkin, and declared the letter nothing less than a war on parents who have children in the public schools.

“Parents are and should be a valued stakeholder in the direction of their child’s education,” Fry said in one post. “They should not be silenced or demonized for holding views contrary to a school board. The NSBA’s letter to Biden was divisive and not helpful.”

In another he called the national association’s position “unacceptable.”

“Despite criticism, including surprisingly from one elected Horry County School Board member, I am proud to stand with my colleagues in the House for parents, for kids and for common sense,” Fry continued. “SC has no business being part of an organization so hostile to parents and to our liberties.”

The firestorm raised in South Carolina and other states caused the national association to issue an apology for the letter, and specifically for equating the actions of some parents to domestic terrorism.

“As you all know, there has been extensive media and other attention recently around our letter to President Biden regarding threats and acts of violence against school board members,” the NSBA wrote. “We wanted to write to you directly to address this matter.”

“On behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter,” the association said, noting that “there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter. 

“We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance,” it said.

The apology wasn’t enough to quell the discontent of the S.C. School Board Association which went ahead with its vote to withdraw from the national group, effective immediately.

It said in a letter to its members that the action was taken “after careful deliberation” and assuring them the “decision was not made lightly.” 

“Over the past few weeks, SCSBA leadership has carefully monitored NSBA’s actions, advocating and watching for a clear path forward and affirmative steps to address the damage done in relation to NSBA’s Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden.” the letter said. 

“SCSBA has kept you, our members, informed regarding our ongoing concerns with the Sept. 29 letter. Aside from an Oct. 22 letter of apology to state associations, NSBA has taken few steps to mitigate the negative impact of the letter on many states including South Carolina,” it continued.

In the letter, the SCSBA also sought to reassure its members that the move will not affect state-level services and training for school board members that focus on local control and decision-making.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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