Ricketts: State Ed Board should "Push Back" against Feds

Oct. 18, 2021, midnight ·

Gov. Pete Ricketts
Gov. Pete Ricketts (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Gov. Pete Ricketts is asking the State Board of Education to “push back” against a federal response to threats against school officials.

Last month, the National School Boards Association wrote President Joe Biden citing threats and disruption of school board meetings across the country and asking for federal help. On Oct. 4, Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote a memo defending “spirited debate” on policy matters, while promising to identify, discourage, and prosecute threats when appropriate.

In a press release Monday, Ricketts said “The direction from President Biden’s DOJ to the FBI to investigate concerned parents is appalling and chilling.”

“The State Board of Education must stand against this egregious abuse of federal power and stand up for Nebraska’s families and parents,” Ricketts said later.

Department of Education spokesman David Jerspersen said the state board already works with local, and only local, law enforcement agencies to provide security. He said the board would likely want to meet and talk about it before having any other response to Ricketts.

Ricketts’ release included responses critical of federal involvement from associations representing local – not state – boards, in 18 states.

John Spatz, executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, agreed.

“To the question if the federal government has any role in local school issues as it relates to providing safety and security, the answer is ‘no,’” Spatz said.

Spatz cited the association’s policy. “We really strongly encourage the participation of parents…If there are situations where there are uncivil disruptions in school board meetings or if people are being threatened, we do believe that schools should partner with local law enforcement to discuss those concerns immediately,” he said.

Spatz acknowledged there have been tense meetings in Nebraska over mask mandates, health standards and critical race theory, but said he doesn’t know of any instances of violence.