Wyoming School Boards Association keeps distance from national letter to president

RIVERTON — The Wyoming School Boards Association is upset about a recent letter sent from its national organization to U.S. President Joe Biden, Riverton school board chairman Carl Manning said.

Manning is a member of the Wyoming association's board of directors.

In September, the National School Boards Association asked Biden for "federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation."

"America's public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat," the letter states, describing "attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks" during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as "physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula."

"As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes," the letter states.

"We ask that the federal government investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against our public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our children and educators, to protect interstate commerce, and to preserve public school infrastructure and campuses."

Manning -- the former chairman of WSBA Board of Directors and still a member of that body -- said the letter "came out of left field for most everybody outside of the beltway," referring to the Washington, D.C., area.

"It's caused a stir all over the nation," he said.

The WSBA directors discussed the letter for more than an hour during their last meeting, Manning said, eventually deciding to draft their own letter to the NSBA, as well as a separate message from WSBA executive director Brian Farmer to all of the members of the Wyoming organization.

Farmer's letter notes that "the WSBA had no role in drafting or disseminating the letter from NSBA to President Biden" and was "not consulted and did not contribute to its contents."

"We object to the tone and the language contained in this letter and have communicated that to NSBA," Farmer said. "As such, we do not support a call for federal intervention into local matters. ... We believe that our local law enforcement agencies are the best partners for our local school boards to address the safety and security needs for their districts."

He said the NSBA issued an apology Oct. 22 for its message to Biden, acknowledging that there was "no justification for some of the language contained in the letter."

"WSBA has worked with numerous other state school boards associations to address the harms caused by the letter and to call on NSBA to consider additional reforms that unite rather than divide our state associations," Farmer said, pointing to recent "internal governance issues" the NSBA has been "struggling as of late to address."

Manning pointed out that at least three states have dropped out of the NSBA recently, and "there may be as many as 13-20 who may follow suit, leaving the organization - and not just because of this letter that was sent to President Biden."

Farmer said some states believe "the failures of the (NSBA) to consider and serve member needs has come to a point where the cost of member dues no longer provides a sufficient value for the services rendered."

WSBA paid about $27,400 in dues to the NSBA this year, and Farmer said Wyoming is receiving value for that cost "at this time ... but we are concerned (and) will continue to monitor the situation."

"We're looking at it," Manning said. "This may be sayonara - it might not be, but it's really caused a (discussion) nationwide."

The WSBA will not automatically renew its NSBA membership this cycle, Farmer said. Instead, he said "we will continue to evaluate the direction of NSBA and will continue to seek a strong national organization that meets the needs of school board members in our state."

For more information visit wsba-wy.org.