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Justice Department Plans Crackdown On COVID Threats Against Teachers, School Boards

Freedom of speech "does not extend to threats of violence or intimidation,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

The Department of Justice is holding meetings to address mounting threats against teachers, administrators and school board members in heated conflicts over COVID-19 safety policies.

The plans include a task force to address a “spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school boards, administrators and staff, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a memorandum released Monday.

Confrontations over COVID safety policies, such as mask mandates and vaccination guidelines, have erupted into violent or threatening clashes at schools across the country. Parents objecting to mask mandates have assaulted teachers, administrators — and even a child

In one case, police were called to an Arizona school after three men, one with zip ties, barged into a principal’s office and threatened her with a citizen’s arrest because she was enforcing COVID-19 protocols. A school board member in Pennsylvania’s third-largest district resigned after death threats.

In several instances, confrontations have been heightened by members of the extremist Proud Boys. Three Vancouver schools were placed on lockdown last month after members of the gang attempted to breach the buildings while children were attending classes.

While “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or intimidation,” Garland wrote in his memorandum. 

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” he added. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.” 

Garland directed the FBI and U.S. attorneys’ offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies to deal with the “disturbing trend.”

The meetings will develop plans for threat reporting, assessment and response by law enforcement.

In addition, the Justice Department will create a special task force to deal with the problem. It will provide specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators on reporting threatening conduct and how to “capture and preserve evidence.”

The DOJ “takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate,” Garland wrote.

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