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.


Justice Department Says FBI Will Address Violent Threats Against School Leaders

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 04, 2021 4 min read
Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland speaks during an event with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 7, 2021.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that the FBI will work with federal attorneys, as well as state and local leaders, to discuss strategies for countering threats against teachers, principals, school board members and other educators.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to create a federal task force to address “the rise in criminal conduct towards school personnel” as school boards and other educators have faced anger and harassment in response to COVID-19 restrictions and other controversial issues in schools.

In a statement, the Justice Department said the “expected” task force would “determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement where threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes.” The task force would include the FBI, the National Security Division, the Criminal Division, and other divisions of the department.

The Justice Department said it will also create “specialized training” for school leaders to help them understand the behavior behind the threats, how to report threats to law enforcement, and how to preserve evidence of crime stemming from threats against educators.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland said in a memo announcing the initiative. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

The announcement came less than a week after the National School Boards Association wrote to President Joe Biden asking for the federal government to step in and help education officials deal with what the group called a rising tide of harassment, threats, and criminal conduct targeting them.

Among other things, the school boards group asked the Biden administration to investigate whether these incidents should be classified as criminal conduct under laws that address domestic terrorism and hate crimes, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, among other statutes. The organization also asked for the U.S. Postal Service to halt the cyber-bulling of students as well as teachers and other K-12 officials.

NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven told Education Week at that time that incidents of violence, threats, and harassment against education officials were not “random acts.”

Asked last week about the organization’s request, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki condemned violence and other acts against school officials and said the administration was exploring options for how to respond. She also said that those concerned about specific threats should contact state and local law enforcement.

It is unclear exactly how many threats and acts of violence have been committed against educators in recent months. But some members of the public have reacted angrily in response to schools’ decision to adopt mask mandates and quarantine policies for students during the pandemic. In September, three adults sought to execute a citizen’s arrest of an Arizona principal and showed up at her school; the men were arrested and charged.

The school boards association also linked a backlash against the use of critical race theory in classrooms to violence and threats against its members. Like mask mandates and quarantine policies, critical race theory has triggered protests at some school board meetings. Educators have rejected assertions that they are using it to improperly indoctrinate students or steer them towards a distorted view of American history.

The NSBA on Monday praised the Justice Department’s announcement, calling it a “swift response” and “a strong message to individuals with violent intent.” The group also stressed, as it did last week, that the disruptions educators are facing are a dangerous obstacle to their work of helping students.

“The individuals who are intent on causing chaos and disrupting our schools—many of whom are not even connected to local schools—are drowning out the voices of parents who must be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety,” the association said in a statement.

However, others have argued in recent days that the NSBA is trying to improperly use the power of the federal government to go after its political opponents.

In an Oct. 1 Washington Examiner column, for example, Becket Adams said the school boards group was effectively asking the White House to intervene “against parents who oppose onerous coronavirus masking mandates and the teaching of racialist ideology.” He also mocked the school boards group for ostensibly championing public debate even as it seeks protection under the USA PATRIOT Act, an anti-terrorism law.

Christopher Rufo, a prominent opponent of critical race theory, condemned the Justice Department’s Monday announcement, as did Parents Defending Education, a group that has sought U.S. Department of Education civil rights investigations into school districts that pledge to address systemic racism.

“This is a coordinated attempt to intimidate dissenting voices in the debates surrounding America’s underperforming K-12 education—and it will not succeed,” Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily said in a statement. “We will not be silenced.”


Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!

Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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 White House Outlines COVID-19 Vaccination Plans for Kids 5-11
The Biden administration will rely on schools, pharmacies, and pediatricians to help deliver the COVID-19 shots to younger children.
3 min read
Ticket number 937 sits on a COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru vaccination site in the Coweta County Fairgrounds on Jan. 14, 2021, in Newnan, Ga.
A ticket number sits on a COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru vaccination site in the Coweta County Fairgrounds in Newnan, Ga.
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Federal California, Florida, and Other States Waiting on Green Light for Their COVID Relief Plans
The list of states with Ed. Dept. approval for their American Rescue Plan blueprints is growing steadily, but two big states aren't on it.
4 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty
Federal What Is a School Shooting? Members of Congress Seek a Federal Definition, Reliable Data
A new bill would direct federal departments to track data related to school shootings, a term for which there is no federal definition.
Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant
4 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021. Newport News police Chief Steve Drew said two students were shot and taken to the hospital and neither injury was thought to be life-threatening. The chief said authorities believe the suspect and victims knew one another but did not provide details.
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021.
John C. Clark/AP Photo
Federal Is the Justice Dept. Silencing Parents or Stepping Up to Protect Educators?
Merrick Garland's move to use the FBI to help protect school officials from violence and harassment has drawn anger and praise.
5 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Tom Williams/Pool via AP