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Justice Department to address threats against teachers, school board members

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Posted at 2:57 PM, Oct 07, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland this week directed federal authorities to meet with local law enforcement to address the “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school board members, teachers and employees in the nation's public schools.

Garland issued a one-page memorandum in which he ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement leaders to discuss the trend.

“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” Garland wrote. “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values.”

Officials with Hamilton Southeastern Schools said in a statement they are in favor Garland's directive, which comes as school board meetings across the country have become contentious over topics such as vaccine requirements, masking and ways in which race is discussed in classrooms.

"We support the efforts of local and federal leaders discussing safety measures that will translate into school leaders’ ability to continue meeting the needs of our students without fear of harassment," the statement said.

Carmel Clay Schools recently announced future school board meetings will be virtual "due to the disruptive behavior of adults" at its most recent meeting.

The district said in an online community message that an outside group "deliberately orchestrated multiple disruptions to the business portion of the meeting."

In August, public comment was temporarily suspended. Metal detection was added at the administration building after a July incident where police say a man brought a gun to a school board meeting.

The message also said a group has targeted teachers and a mental health counselor as well as board members and other school employees.

Carmel Clay Schools officials declined to comment on Garland's move.

Garland said the Justice Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in “criminal conduct toward school personnel.”

The efforts include the creation of a task force to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute crimes, along with ways to assist law enforcement when threats of violence directed toward school officials may not constitute federal crimes.

The Justice Department will also create specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators to help them understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening behavior and how to preserve evidence.

RELATED | Carmel Clay School Board meetings to go virtual

WRTV real-time editor Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.