One year after Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a controversial school board memo, some lawmakers say they still are not getting answers from the Justice Department.
Angry parents, lashing out at school board meetings across the country, captured headlines for much of 2021. Many were fed up with COVID-19 restrictions and curriculum mandates such as critical race theory.
The National School Boards Association sent President Biden a letter in September 2021 equating the actions of some parents as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
Not even a week later, Garland wrote a one-page memo asking for a closer look at any parents who threatened school board members, though the word “parent” is not found in the document.
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Democrats downplayed the political controversy and cited public safety.
“Those who argue that school board meetings across America are not more dangerous and more violent than in the past are ignoring reality,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said last year.
Republicans sounded the alarm on the memo as an attack on free speech.
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“Withdraw this memo and focus on the real threats and dangers that American citizens face,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in November 2021.
Biden administration officials insist the memo focused only on violence and threats of violence and say the document was designed to facilitate communication between federal and local law enforcement.
One year later, Republicans on Capitol Hill are still not convinced.
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“I’m very frustrated by the lack of transparency from the attorney general. I demanded details about how this was drafted a year ago. We still don’t have those answers yet,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told Fox News one year after the memo came out.
Garland has insisted his memo had nothing to do with free speech.
“Parents can object to their school boards about curriculum, about the treatment of their children, about school policies. We are only trying to prevent violence against school officials,” Garland said in October 2021.
In late September of this year, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit from Virginia and Michigan parents who sued Garland over the memo. Trump-appointed Judge Dabney Friedrich wrote “the policy does not label anyone a domestic terrorist, as the plaintiffs suggest.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on this story. The National School Boards Association did not respond to a request for comment, but late last year apologized for the original letter.