Florida School-Boards Organization Criticizes Biden’s Heavy-Handed Appeal To Stifle Free Speech

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland appear ever closer to having FBI agents, U.S. marshals, and maybe even federal postal inspectors patrolling school board meetings to watch for unruly parents.

But one state association of school board members wants the drivers of this crackdown on the First Amendment to know that these heavy-handed tactics are not appreciated. 

On Monday, the board of the Florida School Boards Association complained in a letter to the National School Boards Association about the national group’s initiative to involve federal authorities in local meetings – for which the Florida organization was not consulted.

The controversy started two weeks ago, when the National School Boards Association, which claims to represent 90,000 board members across the nation, asked Biden for federal protection against “domestic terrmorism” at local meetings.

The alleged terrorists were a small number of parents who objected too strongly for the NSBA’s taste to policies like mask mandates, transgender crusading, and critical race theory indoctrination.

In a letter to the group, Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, criticized its “overreach” in appealing to the Biden administration.

“Several elements of your letter run counter to the tenets embraced by the FSBA, and this communication has caused serious concerns, conflict, and consternation for many of our members within the FSBA,” Messina wrote.

“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.”

In short, Messina said, the NSBA pitch to Biden has caused Gov. Ron DeSantis, state lawmakers, local law enforcement officials, citizens, and even the FSBA’s own members to question the association’s commitment to First Amendment rights.

The FSBA views free speech, Messina wrote, as “the bedrock of democracy,” and something the Florida group “would always protect.”

“Let us be clear, the safety of our members and the public through the affirmation, value, and local control of school districts, is a top priority. We are extremely concerned about alarming incidents and comments which extend beyond civil civic discourse, directed at school board members in Florida,” she continued.

“Illegal acts, violence, and intimidation of any public officials should not be tolerated, and our districts will continue to work closely and collaborate with local law enforcement to effectively address these and other issues of public safety if and when they arise.”

“We respect our local and state law enforcement agencies and will continue to rely heavily on them to ensure all participants in our school board meetings are safe and secure.”

Beyond that, however, Messina criticized the NSBA’s clamoring for walling off members of the public from commenting on the school systems they pay for.

“We also both encourage and welcome parents, as well as other concerned citizens into our school board meetings to engage in lively, respectful, and civil civic discourse. We 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,” Messina said.

“We will continue to provide a safe environment for all stakeholders to exchange views; thereby, ensuring parents’ voices are heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education and safety.”

In light of issues such as student learning gaps, teacher shortages, and the need to continue to educate America’s youth during the pandemic, school boards ought not needlessly insert division into the national dialogue, added Messina.

She also noted that the Florida association did not pay its 2021 dues to the national group. “We have been clear about reassessing the value of our affiliation with NSBA due to concerns surrounding NSBA’s governance, leadership, transparency, and failure to embrace non-partisanship,” she said.

“Due to the fact we have not seen the changes we would have expected given the number of states, who are your members and have expressed these and similar concerns, nor have we received any promised plan or timeline to accomplish these changes, we will continue to withhold our dues until further notice.”

“If we are to ever again have a strong national federation, it must be one that eschews rhetoric, avoids partisanship, collaborates with its members, and focuses its energies on intentional impact,” Messina concluded.

“It must reinforce the role families and communities play in public education and underscore the importance of local school boards. It must spend its energies and efforts focused on issues and events, information, and policies that unite rather than divide. It must prioritize high governance standards and follow them.”

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