Attorney General Garland denied Thursday that his memo directing the FBI to investigate "threats" leveled by parents against school board members represents a financial conflict of interest given that his son-in-law co-founded a company that sells progressive education materials of a kind that has outraged parents across the country.
Garland's son-in-law is co-founder and president of Panorama Education, a major product of which is "Social-Emotional Learning" consulting, which offers race-focused surveys and trainings on systemic oppression, white supremacy, unconscious bias, and intersectionality.
When Republican Representative Mike Johnson suggested to Garland that his family member's ties to Panorama could violate the Title V code of regulation detailing rules of impartiality for executive employees, the attorney general replied, "There are no conflicts of interest."
Garland dodged when Johnson asked whether he sought ethics counsel relating to the financial interests of his family before issuing the memo. He also refused to say whether he would submit to an ethics review to determine whether his memo, which critics argue will chill parents' speech, might redound to the benefit of his son-in-law's company, given that it produces the very materials which parents have objected to.
When Garland repeated that "there are no conflicts of interest that anyone could have," Johnson retorted, "You don't get to make that decision…Your impartiality is being called into question. Why would you not submit to an ethics review?"
In districts nationwide, school administrators are using surveys and reading assignments, like the ones produced by Panorama, to introduce progressive ideas about race and gender into public school classrooms. The imposition of critical race theory and gender ideology has prompted parents in dozens of states to demand transparency from their districts by protesting at local school board meetings, albeit sometimes in an unruly and disruptive manner.
The National School Board Association, which claims to represent thousands of school board members, sent a letter to the Biden Administration requesting federal intervention to investigate and potentially penalize parents who threaten school board members as "domestic terrorists" under the Patriot Act. Republican Congressman Steve Chabot asserted at the hearing that the Patriot Act was not meant to target parents.
Garland clarified Thursday that his memo, issued in response to the NSBA letter, never referenced domestic terrorism or the Patriot Act, and would not apply to parents who simply "complain" at their local school board meetings but only those who make violent threats.
Garland admitted that the NSBA letter served as the pretext for his claim in the memo that there has been a "disturbing rise" in threats against school personnel. But the vast majority of the 24 incidents cited in the letter did not constitute threats and were instead heated verbal exchanges between parents and school board members, with the occasional altercation that resulted in an attendee's expulsion from the event or arrest.
Furthermore, at least 13 state school board association chapters recently revealed that the national headquarters did not consult them before sending the letter to the Biden administration and would have opposed the request for federal interference in their local affairs.
While refuting the idea that parents will be treated like domestic terrorists, Garland faltered in his response when Jordan pointed out that the press release accompanying his memo directs the National Security Division, which deals with terrorism, to investigate the alleged parent threats.
In the aftermath of the memo's release, parents have been outraged at what they perceive to be the Biden administration deploying intimidation tactics to suppress their free speech. A coalition of parents from Saline, Mich. and Loudoun, Va., have sued Garland for violating their First Amendment rights.
"Not in a million years did we dream that we'd see the justice department treat parents as domestic terrorists," Chabot said.
While Garland said that "parental involvement is very important in education," many parents feel that his memo is designed to muzzle them when it comes to speaking out on behalf of their children's education.
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