School Board Association Makes Upset Parents A Federal Case
Grand Ledge Public Schools in the national spotlight
In September, the National School Boards Association sent a letter requesting the Biden administration to respond to what it called “acts of intimidation” and disruptions at local school board meetings. It asked officials to treat these incidents as potential crimes to be investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.
The organization sent the letter following reports of tense school board meetings in Michigan and other states, at which concerned parents confronted school officials over race-based curriculums, stringent face mask mandates on children and more.
On Oct. 4, the U.S. Justice Department responded with an announcement that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland had directed the FBI to develop strategies to address what the letter called a disturbing trend. The department also set up a task force to investigate incidents at local school board meetings.
Many observers have expressed concern that Garland’s directive could have a chilling effect on parents who wanted to voice their opinion to school officials.
That fear appears to have been realized for one Grand Ledge parent.
Eric Delaporte is an attorney representing parent Amber Redman in a lawsuit against Grand Ledge Public Schools. He characterizes the district’s conduct as “despicable,” and has advised his client on how to respond to potential interactions with federal law enforcement officials.
Redman, who recently withdrew her child from the district, shared a text from Delaporte, in which he advised her on what to say if the FBI contacted her. He stated:
“If an FBI agent shows up to speak with you, (say) ‘My attorney is Eric Delaporte. You will need to talk to him.’”
Redman says she was confused. “I was like, why is this happening?”
The Grand Ledge district has received a great deal of media attention lately, due to parents raising concerns over its pandemic responses and racializing of curriculums.
The district was mentioned in a footnote in the NSBA letter. The letter itself stated: “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.”
Grand Ledge schools received further national attention when its school board president, Sara Clark Pierson, told National Public Radio that parents at a June 14 board meeting, with raised fists, had stormed the stage. She called the incident a “mini January 6 insurrection.”
But parents who attended the meeting deny her characterization of events. Clark Pierson’s fellow school board member, Ben Cwayna, has said what she described never happened .
Delaporte says of the situation in Grand Ledge, “I’m appalled at the clear violation of parents’ Constitutional rights associated with the use of the FBI to suppress Free Speech. While I fully support boards of education who daily model civic behavior for their students in support of the Constitution, I cannot help but stand against GLPS’s despicable conduct.”
Redman fears interacting with federal law enforcement. She says of the prospect, “It made me nervous and scared to think they could come to my house and hassle me, but I know we didn’t do anything wrong so we will continue to show up and speak up for our children. But it is uncomfortable to feel threatened in that fashion.”
The NSBA has since apologized for its letter. The Justice Department, however, says it will continue with the task force as well as its investigations.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.