Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed Tuesday to defend Floridians after the Department of Justice ordered federal law enforcement to address the nation’s “disturbing spike” in threats against educators and school board members amid the pandemic.
The order, issued by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, comes after the National School Boards Association urged the federal government to address a reported rise of threats and harassment against educators.
In a letter, the organization warned President Joe Biden that educators are under “immediate threat” and need a federal intervention. Educators, the letter says, are facing backlash over school mask mandates and the “false inclusion” of critical race theory into curriculum.
The FBI will lead the response in concert with local law enforcement partners and prosecutors, according to Garland’s letter. The feds will also roll out a “series of additional efforts,” including a federal task force, in the coming days.
DeSantis characterized the order Tuesday as a chilling infringement.
“Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation,” the Governor said. “Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.”
School boards have indeed become a political battleground amid the pandemic, with concerned parents packing meetings to address mask mandates, among other politically charged issues.
The Republican Governor’s statement drew a swift response from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s sole statewide elected Democrat and a gubernatorial contender.
“Attorney General Garland is using law and order to protect children, parents, and teachers from crime,” Fried said. “Florida will continue to be embarrassed by Governor DeSantis and his contempt for the law and the safety of our children.”
The FBI and federal prosecutors plan to meet with federal, state and local leaders to discuss strategies within the next 30 days, according to Garland’s letter. They will also create a training guide to help school board members understand, report and preserve evidence of a threat.
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland wrote. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”
Garland’s letter marks the latest flashpoint between DeSantis and the Biden administration. Most recently, DeSantis accused Biden of playing politics with a preeminent COVID-19 treatment in Florida.
The Republican Governor and Biden have also jousted over immigration policy as well as vaccine and mask mandates in recent weeks.