Ohio School Boards Association leaves national agency over dispute

About 100 people attended the Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, Kettering school board meeting, when Superintendent Scott Inskeep was to make a recommendation all students and staff wear masks amid a rising number of COVID-19 cases and required quarantines during the first couple weeks of school. Nick Blizzard/Staff
Caption
About 100 people attended the Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, Kettering school board meeting, when Superintendent Scott Inskeep was to make a recommendation all students and staff wear masks amid a rising number of COVID-19 cases and required quarantines during the first couple weeks of school. Nick Blizzard/Staff

Credit: Nick Blizzard

Credit: Nick Blizzard

The Ohio School Boards Association is ending its affiliation with the National School Boards Association, after the national organization equated some parents’ aggressive protests with “domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

The OSBA Board of Trustees’ decision was prompted by NSBA’s Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden requesting he use “the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center” to deal with “the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation” toward students, school officials and school board members.

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After discussing their concerns about the letter, board members directed OSBA Chief Executive Officer Rick Lewis to send a letter to NSBA notifying it that OSBA would not continue its membership in the national federation.

“The (NSBA) letter purported to be sent on behalf of state associations and school board members across the nation,” Lewis and OSBA President Robert Heard Sr. said in their Oct. 25 letter. “This assertion could not be further from the truth. OSBA was not notified of the letter, nor were we asked for our thoughts on the matter. If we had been consulted, we would have strongly disagreed with NSBA’s decision to request federal intervention as well as your claims of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

OSBA said it “believes strongly” in the value of parental and community discussion at school board meetings. The group rejects the labeling of parents as domestic terrorists, the men said in the letter.

“There is tremendous value in allowing and encouraging the public to have meaningful input into the decision-making process,” Lewis and Heard wrote in the letter. “However, that participation should not come at the expense of interfering with the board’s ability to conduct its business or subjecting individual board members to threats of violence, abuse, or harassment. That said, dealing with such interference should be dealt with at the local level, not by federal officials.”

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NSBA walked back its wording in an Oct. 22 memorandum from its board to its members.

“There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter,” NSBA wrote. “We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance. We apologize also for the strain and stress this situation has caused you and your organizations.”

Shannon Cox, superintendent of Montgomery County Educational Service Center, told Dayton Daily News Tuesday that MCESC understands OSBA’s stance and also understands the general concept of NSBA’s letter, as it has encountered “very disruptive participants in our board meetings across the county, state, and nation.”

“However, not all of the disruptions have been from parents, nor do we as a whole agree with the terminology NSBA used,” Cox said. “As an association, both OSBA and NSBA have to represent their entire membership and as we all know, we are living in very polarized times with hyper-partisan views.”

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Locally, Montgomery County schools have been “caught in the crosshairs of social conflict,” she said.

“Our superintendents and school leaders have navigated these times with dignity, intention and the best judgment they have in order to provide the safest learning and working environments for their students and staff,” Cox said.

OSBA said the NSBA letter demonstrated “just how out of touch” the national association is with the concerns of local school boards and the principle of local control.

“OSBA can no longer allow NSBA to speak for our association or our membership and no longer see the value of continued membership,” Lewis and Heard said in the letter.

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