The U.S. Justice Department on October 4 announced it was calling on the FBI to use its authority against parents who threaten or use violence against public school officials.
On Monday Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland telling him, “The FBI or any other federal agency needs to stay out of our county.”
The Justice Department referenced what it called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” Garland said he was directing the FBI to work with U.S. attorneys “in each federal judicial district” to come up with strategies to address potential threats within the next 30 days, signaling a concerted campaign to crack down on threats against school officials. Songer’s letter Monday indicated he took such possibilities seriously but that his office would deal with them without federal intervention.
“The Sheriff’s Office will investigate any parent who is reported as making threats of bodily harm to school board members, teachers, or school staff,” Songer wrote. “However, this also includes school board members, teachers, or school staff making threats of bodily harm to any parent. If our investigation shows an individual has made threats of bodily harm, we will file criminal charges against the individual under Washington State law.”
But Songer says he sees a difference between that kind of threat and parents speaking their minds at meetings. “A parent telling the school board members to resign or that they are going to recall them is not a crime under Washington State Law,” he wrote.
Songer’s letter said that, as the elected sheriff of Klickitat County, he would not cooperate with the FBI in targeting parents as “domestic terror groups at school board meetings.”
“Parents have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to free speech and assembly at school board meetings,” Songer wrote. “In my opinion parents have a constitutional right to question the school board members during the school board meeting about what their children are being taught in school. Parents have a right to voice their objections to school board members in regard to mask mandates and to what their child is being taught. Parents have every right to voice their objections to having their children being taught Critical Race Theory Curriculum and Gender Identity Curriculum.”
Merrick’s direction to the FBI was prompted by a request from the National School Board Association to President Joe Biden to use federal laws such as the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Patriot Act to counter threats and violence aimed at school board members across the country. It called such threats “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”