By Guy Page
The federal government’s unprecedented threat of an FBI crackdown on school board critics has cowed many Vermont parents concerned about mandatory student masking, anti-mandate advocate Jim Sexton said Wednesday.
Sexton said that last month he was in contact with about 100 Vermont parents who had already spoken up at school board meetings or were preparing to do so.
Enthusiasm ebbed after U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland published an Oct. 4 memo seeming to warn outspoken parents.
“In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” Garland wrote. “[The DOJ] is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
Garland offered no documentation of the “disturbing spike.” Nevertheless he directed the FBI to work with state and local law enforcement “for the benefit of our nation’s nearly 14,000 public school districts.”
Since then? “Massive exodus,” Sexton said, “70% of them aren’t fighting anymore.”
According to available video footage, Sexton and others have not yelled, screamed or threatened violence. This VT Digger video of a Sept. 24 Franklin County school board meeting shows board-public interactions that are spirited but not generally civil and definitely not threatening.
The same is true nationwide. The one incident of physical violence listed by Garland’s supporters concerned a Sept. 2 incident in which a Mendon, Illinois, man was arrested for striking a police officer who was escorting him from a school board meeting. However, the media coverage does not say why the man was upset, or what was being discussed at the meeting.
Sexton and for now about 20 others will continue to show up at school board meetings to oppose the mandates, arguing that children are healthier and learn better without masks.
Other groups continue to directly challenge school boards. Ben Morley, a vocal opponent of Critical Race Theory, insists there is harrassment — of parents.
“I have not seen any harassment or threats towards school board members, teachers, or administrators, but I have seen a clear attempt to assign guilt and make accusations against parents and community members based on political rhetoric,” Morley said. “It’s as if the districts’ leadership want to accuse others of causing harm and grouping individuals together to assign blame. Ultimately this shifts the narrative away from their own actions, to avoid accountability. It’s a political strategy used by leadership.”
“We The Parents,” a new citizen group opposing both CRT and mask mandates, will rally Saturday, Oct. 23 on the Vermont State House lawn.
Meanwhile, Sexton encourages Vermonters to stand on their First Amendment constitutional rights “peaceable to assemble” and petition the government about their grievances.
“You don’t lose until you stop trying,” Sexton said.
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.