Merrick Garland defends school board memo, says he will not retract it

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Attorney General Merrick Garland told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday that he will not rescind his controversial memo discussing a federal response to purported threats to school boards and educators around the country.

Mr. Garland‘s Oct. 4 memo directed federal officials to meet with law enforcement to discuss strategies for responding to the growing number of threats against school board members and other education staff. The memo came after a number of heated school board meetings, many centered on parent protests over such issues as COVID-19 prevention mandates and the teaching of critical race theory in the classroom.

The memo also came days after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Biden saying the threats and violence could be “equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” and asking the federal government to examine if it could examine “enforceable actions” under federal laws including the Patriot Act in regard to domestic terrorism.

The association apologized for the letter on Friday, saying “There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, asked Mr. Garland if he is planning to revoke the “extremely divisive memo” since the association disavowed its letter.

“As a result of your memo, local school officials and parents may not speak up in these meetings out of fear that the federal government will do something to them,” Mr. Grassley said. “So that’s a poisonous, chilling effect.”

Mr. Garland, however, stood by his directive and said it came “in response to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct — that’s all it’s about.”

“The language in the letter that they disavow is language that was never included in my memo and never would have been,” Mr. Garland said. “I did not adopt every concern that they had in their letter. I adopted only the concern about violence and threats of violence and that hasn’t changed.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, asked Mr. Garland why the school board confrontations “rose” to the level of a federal concern, instead of being addressed at the local and state level.

The attorney general said he acted after “repeated” reports of threats of violence and actual violence against school boards, school officials and teachers.

“The Justice Department has two roles here: We assist state and local law enforcement in all ways and we enforce federal laws which prohibit threats of violence,” he said.

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