Florida School Boards Association denounces national group’s call for federal involvement in parent protests

The Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) is pushing back against a call from its national counterpart for the federal government step in and assist with handling threats to school officials.

While the FSBA says it has “great concern” for the safety of board members and school officials following recent reports of threats and protests, it does not fully agree with a letter sent by the National School Boards Association to President Joe Biden’s administration, which urged the federal government to begin “monitoring the threat levels” against school officials and claimed that “public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat.”

In a letter sent by the state association to leaders of the NSBA on Monday, the FSBA claimed the national organization made its request to the federal government “without consultation of our association or your own board of directors” and called for “a review of NSBA leadership.”

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“FSBA strongly encourages a review of NSBA leadership and its processes, as well as urges a public acknowledgment of the federal overreach expressed in your letter,” wrote Andrea Messina, executive director of the FSBA. “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 letter stated that the infringed upon relationships included the state’s “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.”

The FSBA also made clear that it wants to “encourage and welcome parents, as well as other concerned citizens into our school board meetings to engage in lively, respectful, and civil civic discourse,” adding that members “respect Florida’s open meeting laws, invite disparate beliefs to be shared, and believe hearing from passionate stakeholders is a sign of a healthy community engagement.”

The FSBA also announced it is withholding its 2020-2021 dues, which were due in July, because it digressed from the “NSBA’s governance, leadership, transparency, and failure to embrace non-partisanship.”

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Last week, in response to the NSBA’s letter to the Biden administration, the Department of Justice issued a memo indicating that it would investigate potential acts of violence against school boards across the country from parents protesting masks and critical race theory.

Christina Pshaw, press secretary for Ron DeSantis, said the governor applauded the FSBA “for taking a stand for parents’ rights and the First Amendment in Florida’s communities.”

“The FSBA affirmed that dissent isn’t domestic terrorism. Protests are not threats. A citizen’s criticism of their elected officials is not harassment,” Pushaw said. 

“But in the rare instances that disputes may cross the line into threatening territory, Florida law enforcement are well-equipped to protect Floridians, whether they are elected officials or concerned citizens,” she continued. “There is no reason for the federal government to intervene in local issues and attempt to criminalize free speech.”

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