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Port: Treating school board protests like acts of terrorism is a gross overreaction

"While NDSBA often agrees with NSBA’s positions in advocating on behalf of elected school boards, we respectfully disagree in this instance," Alexis Baxley, director of the North Dakota School Board Association, said.

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A group of parents held signs near Main Street, northwest of the Leidal Education Center before the Monday, April 26, 2021, West Fargo School board meeting. Wendy Reuer/Pioneer
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MINOT, N.D. — Like many of you, I have been concerned about the growing acrimony on display at school board meetings in our region and across the nation.

Still, a recent letter from the National School Board Association requesting the feds' intervention is a bridge too far. The lengthy missive branded the often-unruly protests as "domestic terrorism" perpetrated by "extremist hate organizations."

That's painting with too broad a brush.

"NSBA specifically solicits the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public school children, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses," the letter states.

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If the parents and activists flooding school board meetings are often overwrought and prone to hyperbole, so too is the NSBA, as evidence by this unnecessary request for intervention made to the Biden administration which, given the president's sinking approval numbers , was quickly acted upon.

The culture war is always welcome to politicians needing a distraction from other less salubrious topics, so this conflagration gets a barrel of gas poured on it thanks to the overreaction of the NSBA and opportunism of the Biden administration.

I contacted Alexis Baxley , the North Dakota School Board Association director, for her organization's view of this national development. "While NDSBA often agrees with NSBA's positions in advocating on behalf of elected school boards, we respectfully disagree in this instance," she told me.

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Baxley doesn't deny that there's a problem. I quoted her in a column I wrote last month about frustrated school board members giving up . "NDSBA member community elected school boards in North Dakota have certainly experienced more than their fair share of criticism lately," she told me.

"Has the input of everyone been civil? Unfortunately, no. Have there been occasions when individual behavior has crossed the line and strayed toward implied or explicit threats of violence? Unfortunately, yes," she continued. "However, the overwhelming majority of those taking part in school board meetings and protests have done so peacefully, respectfully and lawfully."

According to Baxley, there's no reason why local law enforcement cannot handle what she describes as the rare instances where things go from intemperate to unlawful.

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Clay County Republican chairman Edwin Hahn holds up a sign ahead of the board's vote at a Moorhead school board meeting Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (WDAY)

"We cannot speak to what is happening in other states, and we are in no position to second guess efforts or needs in those states to protect public safety," she said. "In North Dakota, however, we have confidence in the civility of constituents, the sincerity and good intentions of those providing input, and trust local law enforcement to address any isolated criminal issues that may arise."

I agree with that. Besides, political movements prone to boorish behavior are rarely successful in the long term. Politics is the art of persuasion. Braying jackholes are not persuasive. I'd argue that one of the reasons the activists who tried to recall members of the Fargo School Board failed so miserably in their attempt to collect the requisite signatures, aside from their apparent incompetence , which bordered on fraud , is that they behaved like jerks.

It's hard to convince people to join your movement when you behave like a jerk.

The furor at school board meetings in our region may not be as out of hand as in other parts of the country. I mean, this is the sort of thing that's happening elsewhere, and it's as frightening and frustrating as those activists who followed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema into a bathroom in Arizona .

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Be that is it may, Baxley's assertion that it's something local law enforcement can handle rings true.

We do not need federal intervention, especially not when it smacks of opportunism. We don't need exaggerated accusations from either side.

What we need is for reasonable people to accept apt criticism while ignoring the jerks.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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