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SCHOOL BOARDS

Nebraska school board group cuts ties with national association

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Many Omaha school districts are losing 30-70% more educators than last year — at least 1,250 are leaving their districts. Teachers say it's because of working conditions that aren't improving.

The board of directors for the Nebraska Association of School Boards voted Saturday to formally cut ties with a national organization that spurred controversy last year by calling for federal investigation into threats made against school board members.

This decision comes less than a month after the Nebraska association’s executive committee voted to recommend canceling its membership in the National School Boards Association, a federation of state associations that advocates and lobbies on public education issues.

Saturday’s decision adds Nebraska to a growing list of state school board associations that have distanced themselves or completely cut ties with the NSBA. In a text message, Nebraska association President Brad Wilkins confirmed that they will not pay dues to the NSBA this year. The money would have been due by June 30.

Last September, top figures in the NSBA sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for federal assistance in protecting educators and board members from threats and harassment. School board meetings across the country grew increasingly heated as debates on masking, sex education and critical race theory compelled parents to testify at the normally quiet meetings.

The letter requested a “joint collaboration” between state and federal law enforcement agencies to identify and prevent threats against board members. The NSBA requested assistance from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service.

“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,” read a particularly controversial section of the six-page letter.

The letter was signed by Viola Garcia, the group’s president at the time, and Chip Slaven, the then-interim executive director and CEO.

In October, Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to the NSBA and, in a memorandum, directed the FBI and U.S. attorneys to meet and investigate what he called a “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” targeting school personnel.

Both the original letter and Garland’s memorandum were heavily criticized by the public, and by NSBA members who said that they were not consulted about the letter’s contents. In response, at least 23 other state school board associations have formally severed ties with the national organization. A handful of other state boards have released statements denouncing the letter’s message and the call for federal intervention.

Nebraska politicians also reacted negatively to the letter. U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse called Garland’s memo a “political hack job” in a statement, and Gov. Pete Ricketts said that federal intervention would be an “absolute outrageous abuse of federal power” meant to “browbeat parents into not going to school board meetings.”

The NSBA publicly apologized for the letter shortly after it was shared. Slaven no longer holds the interim executive position, and an independent investigation commissioned by the NSBA found that he was the primary author and did not seek comment from the organization’s national board of directors or members before sending it.

The number of member associations in the NSBA has been cut in half in the past year, which raises questions about its viability as a national organization. Axios reported last year that the 17 affiliates that cut ties by December 2021 accounted for over $1.1 million in dues. The report also indicated that some states like Montana and Florida are considering the creation of a new national group to rival the NSBA.

Correction: This story incorrectly stated Saturday’s vote by the board of the Nebraska Association of School Boards was unanimous. 

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