House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on Friday subpoenaed U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, along with Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray, following a brouhaha over a since-disavowed September 2022 letter from the National School Boards Association to the administration.
In the letter, the organization asked the administration to look into threats against school boards that it called "equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes."
Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, subpoenaed the officials for "withheld documents" concerning the administration's "targeting of parents for exercising their First Amendment rights at school board meetings."
Following the NSBA letter, 19 mostly Republican states exited the organization. The NSBA also issued a formal apology in an Oct. 22 letter to Biden.
“To be clear, the safety of school board members, other public school officials and educators, and students is our top priority, and there remains important work to be done on this issue," the NSBA said in its apology. "However, there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter."
The group of state leaders said they value "the voices of parents who should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children's education, health, and safety."
However, in issuing the subpoenas, a House Judiciary Committee statement said NSBA had urged Biden "to weaponize the Patriot Act against parents." Emails showed the administration had prior knowledge of the letter, according to a committee's news release.
NSBA changed executive directors since events unfolded and conducted an independent internal investigation into the situation, with results showing no collusion with the Biden administration.
The incident has gained attention as an example of the extent to which school matters have been politicized in recent years — leading at times to threats of violence, intimidation or bullying against school board members.
In 2021, for example, a Michigan school board member quit after a decision for a temporary mask mandate led to threats against board members and accusations of child abuse.
According to a November 2022 report, growing political conflict is harming efforts at respectful dialogue in schools and causing barriers to addressing misinformation. The report, from the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California Los Angeles and the Civic Engagement Research Group at the University of California Riverside, was based on a survey of high school school principals.
However, some parental rights advocates opposed federal interference, saying it was meant to intimidate parents. Jordan, for example, alleged in his Friday subpoena request that the FBI's Counterterrorism and Criminal Divisions "opened investigations into parents simply for speaking out on behalf of their children."
The subpoena follows a Jan. 17 letter sent by Jordan to the Education Department reiterating the committee's request "documents concerning the Biden Administration’s misuse of federal criminal and counterterrorism resources to target concerned parents at school board meetings. "
A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said the department responded to Jordan's letter last week, prior to the subpoena, and said in an emailed statement it “remains committed to responding to the House Judiciary Committee’s requests in a manner consistent with longstanding Executive Branch policy.”
The subpoena requires the department to turn over relevant documents by March 1.