JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) says they are withdrawing their membership with the National School Board Association (NSBA) after the NSBA referred to some parents at school board meetings as domestic terrorists.
The MSBA's decision was sparked by a letter, dated Sept. 29, 2021, sent to President Joe Biden from the NSBA and signed by then-NSBA President Viola Garcia, and Interim Executive Director & CEO Chip Slaven. The lengthy letter targeted the recent wave of parents who have spoken-out at school board meetings, especially regarding mask mandates, the teaching of critical race theory, and policies relating to gender identity. The NSBA in that letter said the parent protests—many of which have gone viral in videos shared across the country—“could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” So the NSBA asked for the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, and Homeland Security and the FBI to investigate.
Read the full letter from the NSBA to President Biden, here:
Two days after NSBA President Viola Garcia signed that letter, President Biden appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which assesses student progress nationally in a variety of subjects.
But others did not view the letter so kindly, particularly those parents who have voiced concerns at public school board meetings and who now perceived that the NSBA viewed them as domestic terrorists. The outcry was swift, from parents and school boards across the country.
And on the state level, the Missouri School Board Association says that letter is what resulted in their decision to withdraw from NSBA. The MSBA notified its members of the decision, saying, in part, “The National School Boards Association, through its recent actions, such as its letter to the White House, has demonstrated it does not currently align with MSBA’s guiding principles of local governance.”
The MSBA added, “We also believe that no school board member or educator should ever have to endure threats of violence or acts of intimidation against themselves or their families for making these difficult decisions. However, attempting to address that issue with federal intervention should not be the first step in most cases, and is antithetical to our longstanding tradition of local control. Further, the use of inflammatory terms in the NSBA letter is not a model for promoting greater civility and respect for the democratic process.”
The full MSBA letter is at the end of this article.
On Friday, Oct. 22, the NSBA backpedaled, issuing an apology to its members for the language of that Sept. 29 letter. “[T]here was no justification for some of the language included in the letter,” NSBA wrote. “We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance.” The NSBA says it has launched a formal review of its processes and procedures and will be making improvements.
That full letter is here:
But the MSBA says the apology is not enough. “[W]e believe NSBA still has significant work ahead, both implementing processes and procedures to prevent similar problems in the future, as well as repairing their fractured relationships,” the Missouri board wrote in its letter to members.
At Lake of the Ozarks, local parents called for the local school boards to pull their membership from the state association, which is a member of the national association.
Camdenton R-III School District is the largest district in the Lake area, and MSBA President Nancy Masterson serves on the Camdenton district’s school board. That board saw significant turnover in the most recent elections, which many viewed as a referendum on the district’s handling of Covid policies thus far. The new majority on the board quickly overturned policies such as mask mandates, and has rejected federal funding related to Covid recovery.
Newly elected board member and Board President Gail Griswold told LakeExpo some of the board members had been critical of MSBA before the national association’s letter to the president. And Griswold notes MSBA had retweeted the NSBA’s tweet about their letter to the president. That retweet was later removed.
As for the MSBA’s decision to pull out of the NSBA, Griswold said, “I’m thankful, but I feel the damage is already done.” She added, “I don’t know if people weren’t critical if they would have done that.” Camdenton R-III pays $9,700 per year in dues to the MSBA, and Griswold says the board has received dozens of emails since the NSBA letter, from parents asking the board to pull out of MSBA.
Here's the most recent school board meeting video:
In an interview with LakeExpo, Brent Ghan, Deputy Executive Director for MSBA, emphasized that MSBA is not a state agency: it is a voluntary association that can make recommendations but holds no authority over local school districts. The same is true for NSBA. “NSBA is a federation of the state school board associations,” he said. The MSBA paid dues to belong to NSBA, and will not continue to, though the currently paid dues last through the end of the NSBA’s fiscal year.
Ghan says the NSBA puts on a national conference in the spring, “So we won’t be going to that or any of their other events.” He added, “We have relied on them for information on federal issues and lobbying on the federal level.”
But Ghan said local school districts will not be negatively impacted by MSBA’s withdrawal from the national association.
Close to 80% of the school district boards in Missouri belong to MSBA. But, Ghan noted, “They don’t have to, and some don’t.” The state association offers school board training for newly elected members (the state requires 18.5 hours of training for new members). MSBA also holds an annual conference, lobbies at the state and federal level on public education issues, provides policy guidance and support for local school boards, and provides free legal advice for members. “We have some attorneys on staff, and they’re on the phone all day,” he said.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson applauded the MSBA’s decision, saying, in part:
“Missouri parents value local control, and when it comes to our children's education, parents have a right to know what is being taught and to have their voices heard. Recent actions by NSBA to paint parents as radicals and solicit unwarranted action by the Biden Administration shows a clear disconnect with Missouri Schools.
“In Missouri, we have strict laws to hold those accountable who harass or threaten school personnel. Our highly-trained local law enforcement are more than capable of handling these situations and do not need the DOJ or FBI injecting federal bureaucracy into our local matters. MSBA and its members have also fostered productive and successful relationships with local law enforcement to prevent these circumstances.”
*MSBA LETTER TO MEMBERS*
Dear MSBA Members,
Last week, your board of directors met and made the difficult decision to withdraw MSBA’s participation in the National School Boards Association, effective immediately.
This decision was not made lightly. The National School Boards Association, through its recent actions, such as its letter to the White House, has demonstrated it does not currently align with MSBA’s guiding principles of local governance.
School boards have always been asked to make tough decisions, and to do what is right for the students under their responsibility. These decisions often bring about thoughtful and rigorous discussion, which we believe is crucial to the discernment process.
We also believe that no school board member or educator should ever have to endure threats of violence or acts of intimidation against themselves or their families for making these difficult decisions. However, attempting to address that issue with federal intervention should not be the first step in most cases, and is antithetical to our longstanding tradition of local control. Further, the use of inflammatory terms in the NSBA letter is not a model for promoting greater civility and respect for the democratic process.
On Friday, the National School Boards Association distributed an apology statement for the letter issued by their interim executive director and president. While that is a step in the right direction, we believe NSBA still has significant work ahead, both implementing processes and procedures to prevent similar problems in the future, as well as repairing their fractured relationships.
Please know that our withdrawal from NSBA will not have any effect on the MSBA programs and services that you rely on. MSBA will continue to offer first-class service to all of our members, so you can continue your important mission of helping all Missouri students succeed.
If you have any questions regarding this decision, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
As always, it is an honor and pleasure to support your great work for Missouri’s students.