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School boards group releases independent report on controversial letter; announces governance and other changes
May 23, 2022 |

The National School Boards Association has vowed to make changes following an independent investigation into a letter to President Joe Biden that asked for federal involvement in local school board threats. NSBA on May 20 published a 57-page report that placed much of the blame for the letter on the group’s previous leader, then-interim CEO Chip Slaven.

The Sept. 29 letter triggered a firestorm of criticism from conservative groups, drew national media attention and prompted multiple state groups to quit NSBA.

NSBA on May 20 renounced the letter, for which it had already apologized in October.

“The letter directly contradicts our core commitments to parent engagement, local control and nonpartisanship,” John Heim, NSBA executive director, said in a statement on the association’s website. “The sentiments shared in the letter do not represent the views or position of the NSBA. The NSBA does not seek or advocate for federal law enforcement intervention at local school board meetings.”

NSBA hired law firm Michael Best & Friedrich in February to conduct the investigation. It found that Slaven shared the letter with four officers, but not the entire board, before sending it to the White House. The letter was co-signed by Slaven and Viola M. Garcia, a school board official from Texas who was then president of NSBA’s board of directors and is now immediate past president.

The letter to Biden asked for assistance from federal law enforcement to deal with the “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.” The letter said the threats against public school officials “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

Critics accused NSBA of calling parents domestic terrorists.

Heim took the helm of the embattled association Nov. 23, joining the group from the Kansas Association of School Boards, where he had been executive director for 11 years.

“While the events as recounted in the review are unfortunate, there are a number of important takeaways that will help our organization as we move forward,” Heim said.

The report noted that NSBA has amended its constitution to describe its advocacy as “a united, non-partisan national movement;” adopted a resolution opposing federal intrusion and the expansion of executive authority by the Department of Education and other federal agencies; and amended its belief statement. The association also plans to develop new processes and policies, including protocols for communication with the presidential administration and Congress and governance structures that define the role of the board and executive director.

However, it may be too late to lure back some state groups. As of May 20, eight state groups had quit NSBA, and another 14 had said they plan to drop out, according to The Washington Post. Twenty-two state groups have launched a new association, called the Consortium of State School Boards Association, the Post reported. Rick Lewis, executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, told the news outlet that the Ohio group will not rejoin NSBA.

In a statement to the Post, Slaven defended the letter. Slaven had been NSBA’s chief advocacy officer before becoming interim CEO in July 2021. He left the organization in November.
 
“The attack on public schools is very real, as evidenced by the many false attacks on NSBA’s letter,” Slaven told the Post. “The organization owes no one an apology for standing up against violence and threats. I am saddened to see that the current leadership of NSBA appears to be afraid to stand up for local school board members and the students who attend public schools.”

In a statement to the Post, Slaven defended the letter. Slaven was NSBA’s chief advocacy officer before becoming interim CEO in July 2021. He left the organization in November.

“The attack on public schools is very real, as evidenced by the many false attacks on NSBA’s letter,” Slaven told the Post. “The organization owes no one an apology for standing up against violence and threats. I am saddened to see that the current leadership of NSBA appears to be afraid to stand up for local school board members and the students who attend public schools.”