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Menk urges Coweta school board to leave GSBA over letter to Biden

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Oct. 15, 2021 - 10:28 PM

Menk urges Coweta school board to leave GSBA over letter to Biden

Joe Adgie / The Newnan Times-Herald

Superintendent Evan Horton

A member of the Coweta County Board of Education is demanding the board cut ties with its state support organization over an incendiary letter to President Joe Biden from the National School Boards Association.

In a memorandum introduced into the Coweta board’s meeting Tuesday, District 4 Representative Linda Menk, who has long protested affiliation with the Georgia School Boards Association, said the board should “reject any and all support, participation and cooperation with any and all organizations whose funding supports the NSBA.”

The NSBA is funded in part through dues from state-level associations, including the Georgia School Boards Association. All 180 school districts in Georgia are members of the GSBA, a nonprofit organization that provides services such as board training, legal support, risk assessment, strategic planning and board management software.

A Sept. 29 letter from the NSBA to Biden further incensed parents across the nation – many of whom have begun attending school board meetings to express their outrage over hot-button issues like mask mandates, transgender students’ rights, and how or whether their schools should teach students about the history of slavery and racism in the U.S.

Unruly crowds have disrupted proceedings in some meetings, and other meetings and protests have erupted into threats of violence and, in a few cases, outright brawls. The NSBA’s letter, signed by President Viola Garcia and Interim Executive Director/CEO Chip Slaven, requested that the Biden administration launch an investigation into the “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”

In addition to what the NSBA categorized as attacks against school board members and educators for “coronavirus recovery operations,” the letter stated that many public school officials are facing physical threats “because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula … despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools.”

Critical race theory is not a history class or diversity/inclusion training, legal experts say. Instead, CRT is “a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship,” according to the American Bar Association – a complicated topic the NSBA agrees is unsuitable for students being educated in the school districts it represents.

“(CRT) remains a complex law school and graduate subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class,” the NSBA letter stated.

The NSBA’S letter was immediately characterized on social media by political conservatives as an effort on the part of the Biden administration to rob parents of their First Amendment rights and to label them “domestic terrorists” for speaking out against policies that affect their children.

Chris Rufo, a conservative policy strategist and outspoken opponent of CRT, told The Associated Press the Biden administration is “using the FBI to suppress parents and criminalize dissent.” Rufo’s critical tweets helped set off the social media firestorm that on Tuesday sent several speakers to the podium at the Coweta County Board of Education’s meeting to chastise local board members and to applaud Menk’s proposal to break away from the GSBA.

In her memorandum, Menk also called for the immediate resignation of her fellow board members from any positions they hold within the state or national organization. Only one, District 1 representative Amy Dees, currently holds a position with either. Dees, who serves on the GSBA’s board of directors, said she will not be stepping down from the association, which she says encourages parents to be involved with their children’s educations.

"I don't intend to resign my position with the GSBA,” Dees said in an emailed statement to The Newnan Times-Herald Thursday. “The Georgia School Boards Association does and has always been a robust supporter of parental involvement in education. They remain committed to ensuring excellence in good governance. GSBA believes the family is the most important influence in the development of a person.”

On Oct. 5, the GSBA issued a statement distancing itself from the NSBA’s actions in requesting help from the Biden administration, saying the state association was neither consulted nor informed the letter was being sent and that the decision “is not the first disagreement that GSBA has had with the national association and probably will not be the last.”

The organization acknowledged that school boards’ “difficult” decisions on behalf of their students are not always popular, but that elected officials and leaders who are closest to the community are the most equipped to make those decisions, working in partnership with parents.

“GSBA supports the constitutional authority of local boards to manage and control the public schools of this state,” the statement read. “(We) … also strongly support the principle that parents are a vital part of the education process.”

And should a conflict arise that requires intervention, school leaders will continue to call on local law enforcement, not turn to federal agents or officials, the statement read. But the GSBA also cautioned against taking grievances too far.

“There is no justification for physical or verbal threats directed against (school board members), their staff and certainly not the students,” the statement read. “Nor is there any justification for disrupting a public meeting.”

In Menk’s memorandum, she expressed her disdain for the GSBA’s response.

“The Oct. 5, 2021, response by the GSBA is weak, unacceptable and meaningless in that the GSBA cooperates and supports the NSBA via funding and participation by incorporating their objectives via school board member training,” wrote Menk.

She also requested that the board seek outside sources for the minimum nine hours of state-mandated annual training – usually conducted through the GSBA – required to maintain the Coweta County School System’s accreditation.

Superintendent Evan Horton agreed to research alternative training sources, but said he had confirmed with GSBA Executive Director Valarie Wilson that the association is not currently contributing funds to the NSBA.

“Because it strongly disagreed with the NSBA on (the letter to Biden) and other issues, GSBA has withheld its dues for the year from the National School Boards Association,” Horton said.

Board Chair Beth Barnett said that the public comment portion of the Coweta board’s meetings has remained within the boundaries of civility and pertinence, for the most part.

“Even as we’ve seen an increase in speakers at our meetings, as virtually all school boards in our country have, the vast majority of people who speak to us respect (our) rules, and we welcome their feedback and input,” she said. “While it may be emotional, and it may not always involve our schools specifically, they are issues that are of concern to our parents.”

She said the NSBA’s letter has little relevance in Coweta County.

“Our school board has nothing to do with this particular matter,” Barnett said. “Our local school board meetings, as far as I’m aware, have not involved any threats of violence.”

(View the NSBA’s letter to President Biden here.)