The Potluck

Republicans call on Minnesota School Board Association to cut ties with national association

By: - November 5, 2021 2:15 pm

Photo courtesy of Minnesota History Center.

A group of Republican state legislators are calling on the Minnesota School Board Association to cut ties with the National School Boards Association, after the national organization asked the federal government to investigate threats and harassment against school board members.

Seven members of the state GOP sent a letter to the MSBA Thursday saying they understand the state group wasn’t involved in the national organization’s request to President Joe Biden and urged the national organization to withdraw it. The legislators want the MSBA to end its NSBA membership, however, because the national group hasn’t formally retracted its statements or asked federal officials to stand down.

“I request that Minnesota School Boards Association leave no doubt that such an approach as originally proposed by the NSBA … is not reflective or representative of how our school boards intend to interact with their constituents,” the letter reads.

In a statement to the Reformer, MSBA Director Kirk Schneidawind said MSBA did not support the initial NSBA letter.

“We played an important role in the retraction letter. MSBA has always understood that feedback from our parents and the community is an essential part element of a successful school,” Schneidawind said. “The MSBA Board will meet to discuss our next steps with respect to our relationship with NSBA.”

The state legislators who signed the letter are Sen. Roger Chamberlain of Lake Elmo, Sen. Scott Newman of Hutchinson, Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton, Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls, Sen. Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids, Sen. Julia Coleman of Chanhassen and Sen. Gene Dornink of Hayfield.

In late September, the national association sent a letter to Biden suggesting the violence and threats against school board members and school officials “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation in response.

The move resulted in immediate backlash from Republicans in Congress, conservative groups and local school boards, who said the request for review of potential criminal offenses was inappropriate and an attempt at policing parents’ speech. The NSBA apologized to members, and the DOJ investigation appears to be ongoing. 

In their letter, the Minnesota legislators called the NSBA letter “deceitful and defamatory,” and said the federal investigation is aimed at “bullying and intimidating (parents) into silence.” The letter says the MSBA should join a handful of other states — including Ohio, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania — that have left the national organization.

As school boards took on difficult discussions about COVID-19 precautions in schools last year, meetings across the nation were overrun by irate parents opposed to masks and distance learning. School board members came under even more pressure this year after conservatives organized against “critical race theory” in K-12 schools. “Critical race theory” is a term often erroneously used as a catch-all for diversion, equity and inclusion efforts in schools.

Minnesota school boards have not escaped the national vitriol. One man has been charged with assaulting another parent at an Eastern Carver County School Board meeting about mask requirements in September. Another school board member in Byron cited concerns about her children’s safety in her resignation letter. A Robbinsdale board member said she retired because “the hate is too much.”

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.