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Amid dispute over federal role in local meetings, N.H. School Boards Association leaves national group

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The National School Boards Association is made up of state-level member organizations, which are in turn made up of local school boards.

The New Hampshire School Boards Association withdrew its membership this week from the National School Boards Association, citing ongoing organizational issues and a controversy over the role of federal law enforcement in local school board meetings.

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The controversy began this fall when the national association asked President Biden for help from the federal government in managing threats of violence and intimidation towards school board members.

The request came after months of contentious school board meetings and campaigns across the country to oust superintendents and school board members over issues ranging from mask mandates to how race is taught in schools.

The letter specifically asked for collaboration with the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, suggesting that certain actions “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

The ask prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved, angering some parents’ groups and activists. It also drew criticism from its members at state school board associations, who weren’t consulted about the letter.

“We have encouraged all of our school board members to work closely with parents and constituents obviously, but if they are experiencing disruptive school board meetings, we’ve told them to work with their local police departments,” New Hampshire School Board Association Executive Director Barrett Christina told NHPR. Federal intervention, he said, ran counter to New Hampshire’s principle of local control.

The National School Boards Association, which is made up of state-level member organizations, lobbies in D.C. and shares resources on policy and legal issues among its members. It eventually apologized for its letter, but New Hampshire and at least six other states, including Pennsylvania and Missouri, have withdrawn their membership.

Christina says some local school boards supported the national association’s request to the Biden administration and others didn’t, but it ultimately exacerbated tensions for boards already frayed by tensions over COVID safety and curriculum.

New Hampshire’s withdrawal means the 160 local school boards making up the New Hampshire association no longer have access to resources on policy and legal issues that the national association shared among members.

But Christina says so many states are considering leaving that they may create a spinoff organization.