Advance Notice: Briefs

GOP-led Senate passes measure slamming DOJ probe of school board threats

By: - November 2, 2021 1:26 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

On a party-line vote, the Michigan Senate on Tuesday adopted a GOP measure condemning the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for investigating and strategizing about how to deal with increasing threats to school board members and teachers.

The threats and harassment by right-wing protestors at schools have largely centered around their opposition to mask requirements and discussions of race in school. Prompted by a since-revoked letter from the National School Boards Association asking President Joe Biden for help, the DOJ on Oct. 4 directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to coordinate with local law enforcement to look into threats, intimidation and harassment targeting school officials and teachers.

Senate Resolution 86 defends the protestors, arguing that such a probe “inhibit[s] parents’ constitutional right to free speech.”

“Instead of going after marginalized parents for exercising their First Amendment rights to express themselves and petition their government, we should be listening to them and rooting out divisive critical race theory and forced mandates that threaten our students’ education,” said state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), the bill’s sponsor.

Theis went on to say the DOJ’s memo is a “scare tactic” that would “weaponize” the FBI against concerned parents.

“They aren’t terrorists,” Theis said, adding that she thinks the probe would undermine and have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), last month introduced Senate Bill 689 to increase penalties for anyone who assaults or endangers school staff or school board members. Polehanki’s bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on Oct. 14.

She released a statement after Tuesday’s vote pushing back against Theis’ resolution.

“Educators, administrators, and school board members across our state and country have faced a near impossible task because of a pandemic my Republican colleagues have refused to fully acknowledge, and this resolution outright endorses the hostility they face now, too,” Polehanki said.

“When it comes to wearing masks, encouraging students to learn about all aspects of our nation’s history, or protecting students who identify as gay or trans, it is clear my Republican colleagues’ reaction with rage, rather than reconciliation, has no end. This divisive discourse needs to stop.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.