A probe of the National School Boards Association’s call for federal investigations of parents as domestic terrorists found the White House was involved in the drafting process that led to the controversial request.
The association commissioned an internal investigation following outcry from parent groups and association board members who were upset by the inflammatory rhetoric in a Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden. The group found that Chip Slaven, then-CEO of the National School Boards association, told a White House senior policy adviser on Sept. 21 that he planned to ask Biden to use the FBI and Justice Department to investigate threats against school board members under counterterrorism statutes and the Patriot Act.
The White House adviser, Mary C. Wall, solicited Slaven for examples of threats made against school board members in advance of a Sept. 22 meeting with the Justice Department and other White House offices. The association detailed these previously unreported exchanges in a report released Friday.
"Evidence indicates that White House officials discussed the existence of the Letter, its requests, and the contents of the Letter with Department of Justice officials more than a week before the Letter was finalized and sent to President Biden," the report says.
The letter sparked controversy at the time after Attorney General Merrick Garland formed a federal task force to monitor threats against school boards and teachers. Parent groups and Republicans accused the Biden administration of colluding with the NSBA to use the letter to justify scrutiny of school board meetings. They’ve questioned the involvement of federal investigators in local school board issues and alleged that the federal task force is intended to intimidate parents who voiced concern over schools’ coronavirus policies and left-wing curricula. Members of the association also complained about the contents of the letter, as well as being left out of the loop before it was sent.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on Oct. 21 that the White House was in contact with the National School Boards Association before the group sent the letter. But it was not known then that the White House knew of the controversial rhetoric in the document.
"It is inexcusable that a senior White House adviser would have the audacity to collaborate on a public request to use the Patriot Act against families," Nicole Neily, the president of Parents Defending Education, said in a statement about the association’s report. "This is, quite literally, a betrayal of trust by the highest levels of government."
Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), who questioned Garland about the federal task force in a Senate hearing last year, said the association report showed the letter was a "political hack job … drummed up by progressive activists and their partners in the Biden White House to chill parents’ exercise of free speech."
The association said in a statement that the letter did not represent its views and that it does not support federal intervention in school board meetings. The report places most of the blame for the letter on Slaven, who served as the group's interim CEO until November.
According to emails included in the report, Slaven began toying with the idea of asking the White House for federal support at school board meetings on Sept. 8. He told other association executives about a complaint from an Ohio school board member who received a threatening letter from a parent. Slaven said the intense atmosphere at school board meetings reminded him of the aftermath of "Waco or Ruby Ridge."
Slaven shared his concerns with Wall, the White House adviser, on Sept. 14. Wall asked Slaven to provide her with some of the "egregious examples" of threats made against school board members. She followed up on the request on Sept. 21, saying that she wanted to cite them in a meeting the next day with the Justice Department.
Slaven gave Wall several examples from across the country. He also shared a summary of a letter he planned to send to the White House. Slaven told Wall he planned to ask Biden to use the FBI and Justice Department to use its counterterrorism divisions to investigate threats against school board members. Slaven also made reference to the Patriot Act and "domestic terrorism" investigations.
Slaven sent Wall a final copy of the letter hours before publishing it on Sept. 29. The White House official raised no objections to the language in the letter, and instead offered Slaven support.
"Thank you for sending in advance," she wrote. "We will review, and we remain committed to working with you on these very important issues. As the President has stated, we stand with educators who are doing right by kids—and we know they/you all need to be protected now more than ever."
Slaven was in contact with other federal officials after sending the letter to Biden. Anthony Coley, a Justice Department adviser to Garland, asked Slaven for a phone call on Oct. 4, the day that Garland formed the task force to monitor school board threats. Coley sent Slaven a preview of the statement before the Justice Department released it.
The Department of Homeland Security also contacted the association on Oct. 4.