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Education

Ohio joins TN, PA and other school boards who quit national group over letter about threats, violence at board meetings

 A group gathers outside a central Ohio school to protest the district's mask mandate.
A group gathers outside a central Ohio school to protest the district's mask mandate.

The group that represents all but one of Ohio’s school boards has broken from a national school boards group over a letter that asked President Biden for federal help with concerning incidents at school board meetings.

A threat to a Worthington Schools board member and a protest at the Nordonia Hills board meeting, both over masks, were cited in the letter by the National School Boards Association.

Ohio School Boards Association CEO Rick Lewis says his group wasn't consulted on and didn’t see the letter, which he says went too far.

“The call to federal law enforcement was certainly an overreach. In the end, our board felt the need to make a strong statement," said Lewis.

Some school board meetings have brought tense moments with angry parents concerned about masks and "critical race theory", an approach to race and public policy that's not taught in Ohio's K-12 schools. These two issues in particular have been pushed by Republican candidates as talking points, though school board races are nonpartisan.

Political activists and non-residents have been showing up at school board meetings in Ohio, as the races for open seats on those boards heat up. For instance, Republican US Senate candidate Josh Mandel has spoken at two school board meetings in Ohio, including the Lakota Local School Board, which asked him to leave because the board doesn't permit non-residents to speak. Two sheriff's deputies escorted him out after he refused to yield the microphone.

With parts of the state so divided over COVID policies and teaching about race and policy, what happens if local law enforcement doesn't help?

“I believe most school boards believe they can count on local law enforcement. If that does not work, then obviously we need to escalate, but it should begin at that local level, not at the federal level," Lewis said.

The National School Boards Association has said it regrets and apologizes for the letter earlier this month. The six-page letter includes a graph that says: "As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes."

Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Missouri have already left the NSBA. At least a dozen other states are considering leaving the group.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.