Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


‘A Snitch Line on Parents.’ GOP Reps Grill AG Over Response to Threats on School Officials

By Evie Blad — October 21, 2021 5 min read
LEFT: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. RIGHT: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questions Attorney General Merrick Garland.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Justice Department’s work to address threats of violence against school officials is not meant to stifle constitutionally protected speech or to silence parents who disagree with school boards’ decisions, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday.

Garland’s defense of his Oct. 4 memo on the subject came in response to harsh and extended questioning from Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, who said his actions were a politically motivated effort to stop parents from voicing concerns about issues like schools’ response to COVID-19 and whether teachers are discussing “critical race theory” in class.

“The Biden administration is going to go after parents who object to some racist, hate-America curriculum,” said Ranking Member Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican.

The issue dominated a Justice Department oversight hearing, overshadowing questions about issues like voting rights, hate crimes, and investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Some Republicans also questioned Garland about unfounded claims of a conflict of interest because of his son-in-law’s work with an education company, claims he denied.

Read More About Garland's Memo

Brenda Stephens, a school board member with Orange County Public Schools in Hillsborough, N.C. has purchased a weapon and taken a concealed carry class over concerns for her personal safety.
Brenda Stephens, a school board member in Hillsborough, N.C., says board members face threats and bullying, an atmosphere far different from what she's encountered in years of board service.
Kate Medley for Education Week
Federal School Boards, 'Domestic Terrorism,' and Free Speech: Inside the Debate
Andrew Ujifusa, October 20, 2021
13 min read

Garland’s memo called for his agency’s officials to respond to “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff” by meeting with local schools and law enforcement to discuss strategies for addressing those threats. The Justice Department will also “open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response,” he said in that memo.

The directive came days after the National School Boards Association wrote to the White House, asking for the Biden administration to stop a surge in “threats or actual acts of violence” involving schools. School board members around the country have reported being followed home, receiving verbal threats of physical violence, and other concerns in recent months. The NSBA said the incidents should be reviewed to see if they could be classified as domestic terrorism under the USA PATRIOT Act, an anti-terrorism statute, among other federal laws.

Memo becomes a political talking point

Republicans around the country have seized on the memo, accusing Garland of labeling concerned parents as “domestic terrorists.” It has also become an issue in the upcoming Virginia governor’s election, which is seen by some as a testing ground for messages that may be used in midterm elections.

Garland stressed Thursday that his memo did not refer the PATRIOT Act or related anti-terrorism laws. He said he did not have any contact with the White House before drafting the memo and that he was acting on reports of threats around the country and media coverage of the NSBA letter.

“I want to be clear, the Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in their schools,” Garland told Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. “Like you, I can’t imagine any circumstances in which the PATRIOT Act would be used in circumstances of parents complaining about their children nor can I imagine a circumstance in which that would be labeled as domestic terrorism.”

Garland said the Justice Department is concerned about a range of violent threats, including those against police, health officials, and hate crimes.

Democrats on the committee said they support the effort. They read local reports of school administrators being physically attacked over masking policies and other issues. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said his wife is a school board member who has received “deeply disturbing death threats.” He called his Republican colleagues’ response to those concerns “dangerous, disgusting, and utterly shameful.”

But Republicans insisted there was no federal role in addressing such threats.

Jordan said Garland’s efforts amounted to a “snitch line on parents started five days after a left-wing political organization asked for it.” The NSBA is a non-partisan organization that represents state associations to address the interests of school boards across the country.

“I think your memo, Mr. Attorney General, was the last straw,” he said. “I think it was a catalyst for a great awakening that is just getting started.”

Conflict of interest accusations

Other Republicans accused Garland of a conflict of interest in writing the memo because his son-in-law co-founded Panorama Education, a company that focuses on data to improve social-emotional learning and school climate efforts.

Some Republicans have conflated those efforts with “critical race theory,” a decades-old legal theory that has become a catchall for some who oppose how schools discuss race and history. But social-emotional learning efforts are not critical race theory. Instead, they focus on helping students identify and strengthen their own skills in areas like relationship building and decisionmaking and to apply those skills in and outside of the classroom.

Republicans on the committee did not detail any threats of violence or school board disputes connected to Panorama Education.

In response to questions from Education Week, a spokesperson for Panorama Education said the company “does not have any affiliation with the Attorney General or the Department of Justice” and that Garland’s son-in-law, Xan Tanner, “is no longer an employee and does not manage the company’s operations.”

“Panorama is not connected with critical race theory (CRT), and more broadly Panorama is not a curriculum tool,” the company said in a statement. “Panorama is a technology platform that school districts use to survey their students, families, and teachers ... We were disappointed to hear the false claim today, as it’s simply not true, and very far from Panorama’s actual work.”

Garland denied that efforts to address violent threats were driven by any personal interests.

“This memorandum doesn’t relate to the financial interests of anyone. This memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence,” he said. “There’s no company in America—and hopefully no law-abiding citizen in America—who believes that threats of violence should be tolerated.”


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
The Key to Better Learning: Indoor Air Quality
Learn about the importance of improved indoor air quality in schools, and how to pick the right solutions for educators, students, and staff.
Content provided by Delos
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Fed's Education Research Board Is Back. Here's Why That Matters
Defunct for years, the National Board for Education Sciences has new members and new priorities.
2 min read
Image of a conference table.
Federal Opinion NAEP Needs to Be Kept at Arm’s Length From Politics
It’s in all our interests to ensure NAEP releases are buffered from political considerations and walled off from political appointees.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Feds Emphasize Legal Protections for Pregnant or Recently Pregnant Students, Employees
The U.S. Department of Education has released a new resource summary related to pregnancy discrimination in schools.
2 min read
Young girl checking her pregnancy test, sitting on beige couch at home.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Conservatives Hammer on Hot-Button K-12 Education Issues at Federalist Society Event
The influential legal group discussed critical race theory, gender identity, and Title IX.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix on Oct. 15, 2020.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was among a phalanx of conservatives addressing K-12 issues at a conference of the Federalist Society.
Matt York/AP