EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Senator Lee tells DOJ don’t get involved in school board meetings

Oct 7, 2021, 6:45 PM | Updated: 9:47 pm

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(Sen. Mike Lee, at the Capitol in Washington, September 21, 2020. Lee is one of several Republicans demanding the DOJ to not get involved with school board meetings. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

(Sen. Mike Lee, at the Capitol in Washington, September 21, 2020. Lee is one of several Republicans demanding the DOJ to not get involved with school board meetings. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Department of Justice (DOJ) says it’s working to curb “escalating threats towards educators.”

And at least two members of Utah’s delegation are not on board with that.

Senator Mike Lee joined several other Republicans demanding the DOJ leave parents alone.

“We are concerned about the appearance of the Department of Justice policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents. We urge you to make very clear to the American public that the Department of Justice will not interfere with the rights of parents to come before school boards and speak with educators about their concerns, whether regarding coronavirus-related measures, the teaching of critical race theory in schools, sexually explicit books in schools, or any other topic,” the senators wrote.

A spike in threats, according to DOJ

The DOJ has asked the FBI to start working with local authorities to curb what it calls a “spike” in these threats at school board meetings, and toward educators.  Last month, the National School Boards Association recently asked for federal assistance in responding to the vitriol that it says should be considered “domestic terrorism.”

Congressman Chris Stewart simply wrote on Twitter Thursday, “an angry parent is not a not domestic terrorist.”

The problem in Utah

Granite School District had 11 people prosecuted after disrupting a school board meeting in early May.

District spokesperson Ben Horsley told KSL Newsradio that the call for more enforcement among school board meetings is not squashing parents free speech, as Senator Lee claims.

The rights of parents

“We absolutely honor the rights of parents to be able to speak in our meetings. And afford them time to be able to do so,” Horsley said.  

Horsley continued.

“I can’t image a circumstance where a legislative hearing or a congressional hearing where people would be permitted to shout down the committee members,” he said. “And in fact I see on C-SPAN all the time when that does happen that law enforcement is fairly prompt to remove those individuals. So it’s not a free speech issue.”

However, Horsley says the need for federal law enforcement at meetings “isn’t necessary at this time.”

The district did have another meeting in July where two rival groups showed up to debate Critical Race Theory. Horsley said of that meeting, the rules of decorum were reiterated. And people were able to voice their opinions during public comment.

“When people adhere to the standards and the practice that we have in place, everybody gets to be respectfully heard.”

In the Canyons School District, a spokesperson there says tensions are certainly high. However, they’re not seeing a lot of threats. 

“In every school year, frustrations certainly come to the surface about various issues. But, yes, COVID-19-related topics seem to be the reason for many phone calls, emails, and the comments made during public meetings,” said Spokesman Jeff Haney.

“For the most part, though, in our community, while frustrations have been expressed, the behavior has not crossed a line where we have felt unsafe.”

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Senator Lee tells DOJ don’t get involved in school board meetings