EASTON, Pa .– A new effort is underway by the US Department of Justice to protect school board members and educators. It comes after what the federal government calls “a worrying increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence.”
Many people have seen tense scenes at school board meetings across the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and across the country in recent months.
Today, the United States Department of Justice emphasizes that “although lively debate on political issues is protected by our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals on the basis of their opinions ”.
“I always feel saddened when a member of the public speaks to school board members, who are voluntarily elected to serve the community… some speak with threats of violence and intimidation,” said Kevin Deely, president of the Easton Area Education Association and a teacher from the Easton Area School District. “It’s not something we should put up with.”
The United States Attorney General has ordered the FBI to meet with federal, state and local officials over the next month to develop strategies to report, assess and respond to threats.
The ministry announces that it will announce a series of measures to fight against the increase in criminal behavior against school personnel in the coming days.
“We really welcome the Justice Department’s decision,” said Chris Lilienthal, deputy director of communications at the PA State Education Association.
The PA State Education Association says that while some districts have had major problems, others have not.
Overall, things have improved since the students returned to class, mainly because the majority of school communities want them to stay there.
“Let’s be courteous to each other,” said Lilienthal. “Let’s be constructive. Let’s focus on the solutions and on the students.”
The Easton Area Education Association says teachers are determined not to let outside energy negatively impact what happens in their learning environments.
“We should really team up to make sure our kids get the best education possible,” Deely said. “We should focus on civility in all areas. When we have a discussion or a disagreement, we teach our children how to work through these conflicts productively.”
The Pennsylvania School Board Association told us in a statement that they are strongly opposed to the lack of civility that occurs at some meetings.
“The APSA has always encouraged local school boards to welcome comments and feedback from community members and all stakeholders, and Pennsylvania has long relied on local school district oversight to ensure that the the will of the community and parents is best represented, ”said Annette. Stevenson of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
“We argue that local districts must be able to work with their local and regional law enforcement agencies to address these security issues.”