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DeSantis pushes back as DOJ looks to stop threats against teachers & school officials

Posted at 12:17 PM, Oct 05, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis vowed Florida would defend the "free speech rights of its citizens" as the Justice Department looks to address what U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday was a "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence," against educators and school boards.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Attorney General Garland wrote in a letter released Monday. “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.”

According to the Associated Press, Garland said the Justice Department would use its authority and resources to discourage the threats 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.”

The measures will include, "the creation of a task force, consisting of representatives from the department’s Criminal Division, National Security Division, Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the Community Relations Service and the Office of Justice Programs, to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement where threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes."

The Justice Department also said it will create "specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators" to "understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and how to capture and preserve evidence of threatening conduct to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes."

The announcement from Garland came less than a week after the National School Boards Association requested federal law enforcement and other assistance to "deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation."

"NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety," the organization wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.

The group’s letter documented more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, and other states, the Associated Press reported.

For his part, Governor DeSantis said Tuesday the state would defend "free speech" and said Attorney General Garland was "weaponizing the DOJ."