(Oct. 11, 2021)
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has made headlines in recent days for its publicly released letter to President Biden
. The letter, signed only by NSBA’s current president and interim executive director, included examples of threats, intimidation and acts of violence against school board members and other school personnel. The letter suggested the “actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” and requested federal intervention. Following the release of this letter, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum
committing the U.S. Justice Department to launch “a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
KSBA was not informed of or asked for any input into the creation of this letter. The NSBA position and request do not reflect the considered opinion of KSBA.
We believe strongly in the value of local control. Engaging with local constituents is a hallmark of democracy and disagreement expressed publicly is not new for school board members. The weight that accompanies the important decisions boards regularly make will often attract opposition and it is through this public discourse that understanding can be realized. The setting of tax rates, facility planning, closure/consolidation of schools and adoption of board policies are just a few of the issues that are prone to heated discussion. Understandably, passions run high over decisions that ultimately have major impact on our children and their futures. School boards do not take those decisions lightly, nor do they shy away from the difficult work that must be done. Board members recognize that not all disagreement constitutes disorder, however, public attendance and participation should not interfere with the board’s ability to conduct its business or create a hostile or dangerous environment for anyone involved.
From ongoing discussions with member districts and news reports, KSBA is aware of incidents throughout the state in which local board meetings have been disrupted. KSBA is also aware of instances when individuals have acted inappropriately, and in some cases illegally, toward school boards, their members, and district personnel. These behaviors are troubling, and their seriousness should not be diminished. Thankfully, they appear to represent the isolated actions of a small number of people. Illegal acts, violence and intimidation of any public officials will not be tolerated, and districts will continue to work closely with local law enforcement to address issues of public safety.
With the recent spike in school board meeting attendance, public comment and local advocacy, many districts are embracing the opportunity to engage with their communities on a deeper level. They are making this a teachable moment about local district governance; the role of school boards, school-based decision making councils (SBDMs), the state Department of Education and our legislature in Frankfort. While district leaders are feeling intense pressure, the historic increase in scrutiny of education policy (and our policymakers) may bear fruit in the form of a more informed citizenry.
KSBA has the utmost respect for the school boards, administrators, educators and staff of Kentucky’s system of common schools. Through the trying uncertainty of the pandemic, the resolve and collective strength demonstrated by those entrusted with the instruction and care of our 650,000 public school students has never been more evident. We know our members are leading in challenging times and we applaud each of them for providing this valuable service to your community.
KSBA’s leadership is currently evaluating the benefits of continued membership in NSBA. We will continue to closely monitor the situation, watching for much needed corrective action from NSBA’s leadership and a renewed commitment to transparency.
- Kerri Schelling, KSBA Executive Director