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Minnesota School Boards Association cuts ties with national group

The National School Boards Association asked the FBI to address harassment and threats at school board meetings across the country as parents packed meetings to oppose COVID-19 precautions and the way districts handled topics like race and gender.

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Members of the public display signs at the Brainerd School Board meeting Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, advocating against mask mandates. Signs referred to the number of people who signed a petition asking board members not to put a mask mandate in place and had phrases like "Let kids breathe" and "We the people are the people."
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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ST. PETER, Minn. — The Minnesota School Boards Association is among the latest in the U.S. to withdraw membership from a national association that asked for help from federal authorities in handling parent protests and threats at school board meetings and compared the issue to "domestic terrorism."

Minnesota Republicans in November called on the state's school board association to leave the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

"That the national school board organization would be involved in this attack on parents is outrageous," state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said in a November statement . "Unless and until there is a complete leadership overhaul at the national level, the Minnesota School Board Association must preserve the integrity of its mission by withdrawing its membership from the NSBA.”

The Minnesota School Boards Association says it was already reconsidering its relationship with the NSBA before conservatives across the country last fall called for state groups to cut ties with the group.

The controversy stemmed from a letter the NSBA sent to President Joe Biden in September asking for federal assistance in dealing with increasingly contentious school board meetings across the U.S. In 2021 parents opposed to COVID-19 precautions, and with concerns about the way schools handled topics such as race, gender and history, packed meetings to voice their displeasure with school district policies.

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The tense atmosphere at meetings led to a wave of school board member resignations. By November, Minnesota alone saw 70 school board members step down. Some, such as two members in Byron, Minnesota, cited the "physical and mental toll" as factors in their departure.

In an October memorandum in response to the national association's letter, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said there was a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats” against board members and educators and directed the FBI and Justice Department to work with local law enforcement to address the issue.

The National School Boards Association removed the letter from its website and apologized for its language, but stood by its concerns about safety for board members and school staff. Minnesota association Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind previously told Forum News Service his group was not involved in the letter and called for its retraction.

Minnesota School Boards Association spokesman Greg Abbott said the state group was already weighing whether it would remain a member of the national group.

"Prior to the letter to the Biden administration, we had ongoing concerns regarding the value of membership with the NSBA," he said in an email to Forum News Service.

The Minnesota association's decision to withdraw from the NSBA came after 18 other state associations cut ties, Schneidawind told school board chairs and superintendents in a letter dated Jan. 4. The Minnesota group's board of directors voted to leave a week before the letter was sent.

"We felt it was important to reevaluate and the value and consider what will be in the best short- and long-term interests for MSBA and its members," Schneidawind said in the letter. "In a decision that was not taken lightly, we believe that investing in a new business opportunity which will allow us to design a multi-state association for today and the future was the best choice for (the Minnesota School Boards Association)."

Schneidawind described the new group, the Consortium of State School Boards Associations, as nonpartisan. The Minnesota association expects the NSBA to honor individual school districts' decisions to participate in national association activities through June 30.

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Minnesota House Reps. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, applauded the state association's move.

“The MSBA has made the right decision in withdrawing from their national affiliate. This action sends the message that parents will not be treated as the enemy when their only goal was to advocate for the wellbeing of their students," their statement said. "The NSBA’s treatment of concerned parents was appalling, and we applaud the MSBA for recognizing that and withdrawing their membership.”

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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