In a letter to Mr. Garland sent Friday, the Kentucky Republican called the memo misguided and asked for several points of clarification.
“Your memorandum’s ominous rhetoric doesn’t reflect the reality of what we have seen at school boards across the country in recent months,” the Republican leader wrote.
The letter follows Mr. Garland’s memo from earlier this week directing federal authorities to develop strategies to address a “disturbing spike” in threats and violence against school boards.
Mr. McConnell, though, said Mr. Garland’s memo lacks clarity.
“The memorandum purports to respond to a ‘disturbing spike’ in threats and harassment against these officials - although it’s silent as to the supposed perpetrators or any actual predicates for this action.”
He also said parents have every right to be involved in their children’s education and said the grassroots interest parents have shown should be “commended and encouraged.”
Mr. McConnell condemned any acts of violence and acknowledged that while some recent school board meetings have “involved altercations,” most remain without incident.
He also pointed to several efforts by public officials “to organize for the intimidation and harassment of parents who have the temerity to want a better education for their children.”
“It’s exactly this kind of intimidation of private citizens by government officials that our federal civil rights laws were designed to prevent,” Mr. McConnell said.
Mr. Garland’s call-to-action came days after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Biden asking for federal authorities to investigate and monitor the violence and threats.
The association said there have been “attacks” against school board members and educators who approved coronavirus-related mask policies and many are facing physical threats linked to the fight over teaching critical race theory in the schools.
The NSBA asked the federal government to “examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence” under the Patriot Act in regard to domestic terrorism and other federal laws.
Mr. Garland’s memo received swift backlash from Republican lawmakers. On Thursday, 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee told Mr. Garland in a letter that they are concerned about the “appearance” of the Justice Department “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.
They said it is inappropriate to use the Patriot Act and federal powers “to quash those who question local school boards,” and the NSBA’s suggestion of that possibility will chill speech by parents at school board meetings.
Mr. McConnell asked for further clarification from Mr. Garland on several key points contained in his memo including operative definitions for “harassment” and “intimidation,” as they are used in the memo, and whether the attorney general or his staff had discussed the matter with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association or the National School Boards Association before issuing the memo.
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