South Carolina school board association staying with national affiliate

The South Carolina School Board Association (SCSBA) is “carefully” monitoring its national affiliate but, for now, has no plans to leave the National School Board Association (NSBA), SCSBA Executive Director Scott Price said.

Price made the indication Monday, shortly after 36 Republican state representatives fired off a letter demanding SCSBA withdraw from NSBA after the national group’s call for “federal intervention” that “labeled parents as domestic terrorists” and sparked uproar across the country.

“The federal attempt to smear parents has already increased tensions and ultimately will chill the ability of citizens to freely petition their government, a constitutionally guaranteed right without fear of reprisal,” lawmakers wrote in their letter to Price.

In a Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden, NSBA President Dr. Viola Garcia and CEO Chip Slaven wrote “immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence.”

Board members and educators nationwide have been “attacked” because of approving COVID-19 mask mandates, and many are “under threat” because of “propaganda” on critical race theory, Garcia and Slaven wrote.

“As these acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” they wrote, calling for a joint expedited review by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, Homeland Security and the FBI of groups showing up at school board meetings.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the Justice Department and FBI officials Oct. 4 to meet with school boards and educators nationwide to assess threats.

The letter sparked outrage nationwide. Garcia and Slaven apologized for their language, but Republicans championing parents’ rights and espousing selective support for local control rallied against the alleged federal overreach.

“This apology is insincere,” the 36 lawmakers wrote in their letter to SCSBA, noting Garland’s memo is a “slap in the face of all Americans.”

Noting other state affiliates have left NSBA in response to the letter, including Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the letter, written by Rep. Stewart Jones, R-Laurens, calls on SCSBA to do so as well.

“The message needs to be sent immediately that South Carolina will not support organizations that are threatening, antagonizing, or acting unAmerican towards concerned parents,” it stated.

“We need to restore individual liberty, local control of education. A big part of that is the role parents play in their child’s education,” Jones told The Post & Courier in Charleston.

“To say that parents are the ones that are the terrorists just because they don’t agree” with board decisions “is ludicrous,” Rep. Craig Gagnon, R-Abbeville, told The State newspaper in Columbia. “They’re overstepping the whole idea of open and honest debate. It might get a little adversarial, it might get a little hot sometimes being on the school board. It’s sometimes a thankless job and you get a lot of heat for things that are beyond your control, but that’s part of the job.”

Also part of his job is not discontinuing an affiliation based on the political whiplashes of a tense time, Price implied in a brief statement in response to the letter, saying SCSBA is “carefully” watching NSBA but not leaving it.

“Like you, SCSBA is especially concerned about the call for federal intervention,” Price wrote in his response. “SCSBA and its members strongly advocate for local decision-making in the governance of school districts, which is a longstanding position voted on by our members each year.”

The SCSBA does not post any scheduled board meetings on its website but will convene Nov. 10 for a virtual conference outlining 2022 legislative priorities.

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