A Mid-Missouri legislator has criticized a letter from the National School Boards' Association that he said seeks to "silence opposition" in part by labeling parents who speak out on mask and vaccine mandates and critical race theory as "domestic terrorists."
State Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, issued a letter to the Missouri School Boards' Association on Tuesday, asking about its stance on claims in a recent National School Boards' Association letter. The NSBA letter, issued Sept. 29, is a request for assistance from federal law enforcement in addressing threats against school employees.
The NSBA request referenced the "growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation" against school board members, teachers and school officials. The letter asked for collaboration between schools and law enforcement to address the threats.
Mask policies and critical race theory are among the issues cited in the letter as sources of contention in the escalating threats against school employees.
The NSBA's letter urged the seriousness of the threats.
"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," the NSBA letter states, asking for a review from agencies equipped to investigate such crimes, as well as a review of any applicable laws. It listed actions such as the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the PATRIOT Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as potential statutes that might be applied.
Rowden's Tuesday letter appeared to reference this section and castigated the NSBA's letter as a push to "label parents who seek to protest or speak out on vaccine and mask mandates as 'domestic terrorists.'"
He also criticized the letter as an attempt to "silence opposition."
Rowden addressed his letter to the Missouri School Boards' Association as a "subsidiary" of the NSBA, and listed questions about its stance on the NSBA's words.
"Do you believe concerned parents in the great state of Missouri are domestic terrorists?" he asked. "Do you believe concerned parents in Missouri who are seeking the best education solutions for their kids should be punished with the same tools used to punish the perpetrators of the September 11 Attacks, the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on American soil?"
Melissa Randol, executive director of the MSBA, said in an interview she had yet received the letter, but had seen it online. She said she was "disappointed" by its content.
As a constituent, she said, she was disappointed that Rowden took to social media, rather than calling the organization directly. She emphasized the MSBA is not a "subsidiary" of the NSBA as Rowden said, but a member, and did not have control or knowledge of the NSBA letter before it was sent. She also said she did not believe the NSBA was referring specifically to parents in its letter and could not find a mention of the word "parent" inside.
Addressing Rowden's questions, Randol said they were "incredibly disappointing." She emphasized most board members are parents themselves, and said as a parent, she would happily defend the right of parents to communicate their concerns and beliefs. Randol said the MSBA is always trying to support "good, civil discourse," but the line is drawn when the discourse devolves into threats.
She pointed out Rowden himself had received threats at the end of the legislative session and had urged "civility and respect" in a tweet on the subject. She said she hoped he would want the same civility and respect for the sake of school boards.
Randol said parents sharing their ideas should be "celebrated."
"Our system only works when we have open, safe forums," she said.
Randol said Missouri had seen some of the threats the NSBA letter was referring to, and in some places, law enforcement had to attend board meetings, but such cases were not everywhere.
On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland tasked the FBI with coordinating and strategizing with various federal, state and local authorities over the next month to address the issue of threats against school employees and leadership, according to the Associated Press.
As of Tuesday, the MSBA had not received any offers of assistance from federal authorities, Randol said.