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Probe into threats at school board meetings spurs call for Minnesota group to cut ties with national affiliate

Republican lawmakers urged the Minnesota School Boards Association to drop its tie to a national organization and avoid facilitating local level investigations into threats and intimidation of board members or teachers. Tense meetings over mask mandates and critical race theory fueled the federal push to investigate

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Minnesota Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, presented a Republican tax plan aimed at providing more than $1 billion in tax breaks. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republicans on Friday, Nov. 5, called on the state school boards association to drop ties with its national affiliate after the group requested a federal probe into threats made against local school boards around masking measures and curriculum.

A group of seven state legislators in a letter called on the Minnesota School Board Association to terminate its membership in the national group and refuse to take part in federal investigations looking into threats against school boards, teachers or administrators.

The push comes after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland this week defended his request to have the FBI meet with local law enforcement to further investigate "threats, intimidation and harassment" toward school board members, educators, administrators and others.

The National School Boards Association urged federal officials to launch the investigations after they said school board officials and school staff around the country faced harassment and intimidation over school masking policies and the teaching of critical race theory. The lessons around race are typically not a part of K-12 curricula.

In Minnesota, school board debates around critical race theory and mask mandates have led to harassment of board members and instances of physical violence between attendees at meetings. And a record number of school board members stepped down in 2021 before their terms came to a close.

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MORE MINNESOTA SCHOOL BOARD NEWS:

  • Push against masks, racial equity education sees mixed results in Minnesota elections Blocks of school board candidates opposed to masks, critical race theory, fail to flip boards, but could return in future elections.

  • Republicans aim to repeat Youngkin's schools tactic in 2022 elections The approach belies the criticism Republicans faced under former President Donald Trump for seeking cuts in education and trying to pay for a proposed Trump border wall with Mexico using funds budgeted for schools and childcare centers.

  • Masks, equity, culture wars at forefront of Minnesota school board elections Contentious disagreements and clashes at meetings led to dozens of resignations by school board members.

State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, chairs the Senate Education Committee. He said parents have a right to be worried about policies implemented in and lessons taught in schools. And they should be able to participate in school board meetings "without being bullied or intimidated by the Department of Justice."
"That the national school board organization would be involved in this attack on parents is outrageous," Chamberlain said in a statement. "Unless and until there is a complete leadership overhaul at the national level, the Minnesota School Board Association must preserve the integrity of its mission by withdrawing its membership from the NSBA.”

The NSBA has apologized for the language it used in the letter but maintained concerns about the safety of school board members, teachers and school staff. Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Ohio state school board associations have dropped their ties to the NSBA.

Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association, said the group wasn't involved in the writing of the NSBA letter and called for its retraction. The association hasn't discussed withdrawing from the national group but plans to take that up along with a conversation about the association's involvement in potential investigations, he said.

"The MSBA Board of Directors will be meeting soon to discuss our plan forward or our relationship with the National School Boards Association," he said.

Schneidawind said that school board members had reported feeling worn down after instances of disruptions in meetings or outside of them and urged parents and other participants to be considerate. " I think the appeal from our boards is c ivility and respect goes a long way," he said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

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