FBI to investigate threats, harassment against school board members
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Uh, school board meeting shut down by protestors in Poway, another meeting in Vista adjourn because people refuse to wear masks and a school board member in Coronado finds her address published on social media and her car vandalized. Now, the FBI has been tasked to look into incidents like these across the country. Attorney general Merrick Garland announced on Tuesday that federal investigators will work with local officials on what he calls a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school. Administrators. Joining me is Darshana Patel, a delegate who represents the California school board association and a trustee for Poway unified school district. And Darshana welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: (00:48)
Thank you for having me today, Maureen, can you
Speaker 1: (00:50)
Tell us about your experience with one of these disruptions?
Speaker 2: (00:54)
You know, the power unified school district has been meeting virtually since the beginning of the pandemic, since the governor's order has allowed us to, for the health and safety of both our staff and our public. And on September 9th, we had a regularly scheduled board meeting and it was duly agendized as a virtual meeting. So not open to in-person attendance, but we livestream it. And during that meeting, before we were even able to convene it, protestors push their way into our school district office took over our board room and did not allow us to convene our meeting. It was quite frightening for our staff, very unexpected, and it was a very disturbing situation, aggressive, hostile, and we weren't able to actually even convene our meeting and conduct business that night.
Speaker 1: (01:40)
I know there were police in attendance at the Poway meeting, as far as I've read, what do they do?
Speaker 2: (01:46)
Police recalled when the protesters started getting a little aggressive and push their way into the room, it took them some time to arrive on scene. And at that time only one officer showed up and then that officer had to call for backup before entering the room. And even when once three officers were there, they still didn't feel that they had enough force to manage the situation. So it was about 40 minutes from my understanding until, um, officers actually came inside the building to see what was going on,
Speaker 1: (02:15)
The notion of what are you hearing from other school boards in San Diego and across the state about what's going on at these meetings? So
Speaker 2: (02:22)
Across the state, it's been, you know, we've had board meetings disrupted with aggressive harassing, verbally abusive protestors, Northern California, Southern California, inland coastal mountains, deserts, you name it. It's it's broad across our whole state and across the nation. In fact, what we're hearing is that these meetings are being disrupted and board members are not fully aware of what the process is. They call the police to help. And in some situations, the police are great. Their local officers work well with their school districts and in several situations, they just haven't been that supportive. So a unifying message from the governor would really be helpful. And that's why CSBA has taken action to write a letter to our governor, urging for leadership to have school boards protected by law enforcement.
Speaker 1: (03:09)
What are the issues that are driving these outbursts?
Speaker 2: (03:12)
Currently, it is across the board. It's the let them breathe movement. So this is this group of individuals who believe that masks are causing harm to children, which we, we know that there's no genuine physical harm. That's caused to children by wearing masks. They believe that it's their individual, right, to not wear a mask, but the situation, the reality is for school districts in California, the governor has issued an indoor mask mandate, and we are complying with the law. What these protesters are doing is they're asking us to break the law and in fact, doing it in an unlawful way by disrupting public meetings.
Speaker 1: (03:47)
And what other issues out there are driving these outbursts? Is it also critical race there?
Speaker 2: (03:52)
Critical race theory is another one. And that one's, it's fueled by a lot of misunderstanding and intentional disinflation being spread around what school districts are doing with critical race theory. And it's actually intended for the college or graduate school level. And it specifically deals with the law. That's not something we're teaching in public education. What we're doing is introducing curriculum through the lens of racial equity, injustice.
Speaker 1: (04:16)
Do you have any sense that these disruptions are coordinated efforts?
Speaker 2: (04:20)
Well, they do really seem to be coordinated because it's essentially it's the same tactics and the same misinformation, the same types of harassment. It does seem very coordinated. And this is why the national school boards association has asked president Biden and Mr. Merritt Garland to take a step in which they have agreed to do. So. Now the department of justice is asking the FBI to investigate these situations. So it is being taken very seriously.
Speaker 1: (04:46)
And what are you hoping the new FBI involvement will do?
Speaker 2: (04:49)
It starts with, um, inquiry. So the FBI will start investigations to determine whether there is a coordinated effort. And if there is, they will take the steps necessary to put a stop to this, this harassment, this verbal abuse, following board members and staff members. It's essentially preventing school boards from doing the work of the public on behalf of our students and children. Yeah.
Speaker 1: (05:12)
There are critics who say that, getting the FBI involved in what happens at school board meetings is an overreaction and will have a chilling effect on parents rights. What do you say to that?
Speaker 2: (05:23)
It's not that this is the first time a school boards across the nation have faced a very passionate public, but what it's escalated into is extreme disruption, California law has penal codes, specifically outlining maintaining the peace of public meetings. And this is more about that. It's not about discouraging public input at meetings. This is about stopping hate, full threatening, violent behavior against elected officials.
Speaker 1: (05:48)
I've been speaking with, Darshana a Patel, a delegate who represents the California school board association and a trustee for Poway unified school district and dosh. And a thank you so much.
Speaker 2: (05:59)
As some community members continue to push back on COVID-19 related health guidelines in California schools, discourse over masking, vaccine mandates and curriculum is becoming increasingly heated.
A separate incident involved the vandalization of a Coronado school board member's car and her address published on social media.
Now, the FBI has been tasked to look into incidents like these across the country.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that federal investigators would work with local officials on what he calls "a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence" against school administrators.
"Across the state, we've had board meetings disrupted with aggressive, harassing, verbally abusive protesters," Patel said.
She joined Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss her own experience with the ongoing disruptions.