Republicans pile onto claim of Cardona's involvement in NSBA letter

Bianca Quilantan

Two dozen Republican senators have piled onto a conservative group’s claim that an internal National School Boards Association email links Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to a controversial letter from last year.

“While we knew early on that White House staff were complicit in the creation of this letter, it is only recently that information has surfaced implicating you and your office in this shameful episode,” the senators wrote in a letter sent Thursday. “Accountability begins at the top, and as U.S. Secretary of Education you must explain your role, or your staff’s role, in the creation of this letter.”

The letter, which has been staunchly criticized by Republicans and has been taken down from NSBA’s website, likened the actions of angry parents at school board meetings to “domestic terrorism.” It called on President Joe Biden to use the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, its National Threat Assessment Center and other federal agencies to stop “threats and acts of violence” on school officials during school board meetings.

GOP’s demands: The group of senators are asking Cardona to explain his and his department’s role in the creation of the NSBA letter. Specifically, they’ve asked whether the secretary or his staff advised the group on the content or wording of the letter, and if he would commit to firing any staff that was involved in crafting the letter. They also asked what direction the department received from the White House regarding the letter.

Additionally, the senators asked if Cardona “believe[s] that parents exercising constitutionally protected rights are ‘domestic terrorists’” and whether “school board meetings should be open to the public.” They’ve asked for a response to the their questions by 4 p.m. on Friday.

Key context: The demands stem from an email exchange obtained through a public records request by the group Parents Defending Education.

“Chip [Slaven] told the officers he was writing a letter to provide information to the White House, from a request by Secretary Cardona,” according to emails between NSBA Secretary-Treasurer Kristi Swett and another association member. Slaven was appointed interim executive director of the group in July before returning to his prior role as the organization’s chief advocacy officer last fall.

In October, Attorney General Merrick Garland prompted a fresh conservative outcry after ordering federal law enforcement authorities to huddle with local leaders and address what the nation’s top prosecutor called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against educators and school board members.

Cardona's response: “We didn't ask for that letter,” Cardona said in an interview with CBS News Wednesday.

When asked if he agreed that the DOJ or FBI should get involved, Cardona said, “I believe any threats toward any elected official is unacceptable.”

An Education Department spokesperson also said the agency “routinely engages with students, teachers, parents, district leaders and education associations” and emphasized that the secretary “did not solicit a letter from the NSBA.”

"The department plans to respond to the letter," a department spokesperson told POLITICO on Thursday.