By Haley Jones, MASA Marketing & Digital Media Specialist
Frustrated parents and community members have become an all too familiar sight and sound for school district leaders across Michigan, and throughout the country. Hot button issues like mask mandates and critical race theory have caused a spike in public comments at school board meetings and emails to district leaders.
In addition to that boost of public engagement – an increase in harassment and threats of violence.
Citing an increase in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and staff in public schools, this October, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland directed the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet with federal, state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies for addressing this frightening trend.
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” wrote Attorney General Garland. “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.”
In response, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has also offered support for school board members who may be facing threats of violence.
Recently, MASA hosted a free webinar with Sunita Doddamani, assistant attorney general and head of Michigan’s Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism Unit. Doddamani addressed topics such as what to do if you receive a threat, who to report to, what legally constitutes a crime, and what protected free speech is.
Threat crimes should be reported to local police, as they are the first responders. Additional support can also be obtained from your local Michigan State Police post, the Michigan Attorney General Hate Crimes & Domestic Terrorism Unit, and the FBI. Contact information for these organizations is available in the slide deck.
Depending on the charge, someone who makes a threat could face a penalty anywhere from 93 days to 20 years in jail, Doddamani said.
The U.S. Justice Department plans to create specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators. This training will help school board members and other potential victims understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and how to capture and preserve evidence of threatening conduct to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
MASA will continue to provide members with resources and information on training from both the state and federal levels as they are made available.