Republicans issue subpoenas to former school board officials

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans issued another series of subpoenas Monday as part of an ongoing investigation into what they contend is the mistreatment of parents who protested “woke” school board policies.

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, demanded documents and testimony from three individuals, including the former heads of the National School Boards Association, for “requesting federal law enforcement assistance to target parents voicing concerns at local school board meetings.”

The Ohio Republican is flexing his newly appointed subpoena power to probe a September 2021 letter that the nonprofit representing U.S. school boards sent to the Biden administration. The letter warned of rising threats against school board members over coronavirus restrictions and teaching around race.

The letter to the Justice Department, signed by Chip Slaven, then the interim executive director of the NSBA, and Viola Garcia, then the president of the NSBA, outlined more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states.

Jordan, who also chairs a new subcommittee dedicated to what Republicans assert is the “weaponization” of government, has said that as a result of the letter, the Justice Department designated “a specific threat tag” for school board-related threats and opened investigations “into parents simply for speaking out on behalf of their children.” Those allegation are outlined in a GOP report released in November.

The NSBA has repeatedly stated that the letter’s focus was on the issue of violence and threats, not protests from parents.

Last month, Jordan issued his first subpoenas as chairman to Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, accusing them of withholding information about whether the government overreached in scrutinizing parents.

The Justice Department has denied targeting parents and has already begun to turn over documents to the committee. The subpoenas come days after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy helped introduce legislation that would give parents more of a say in school curriculum.

It is all part of the Republican Party’s larger effort to turn the issue of “parents’ rights” into a rallying cry, harnessing the frustration with schools that reached a boiling point during the pandemic when educators grappled with masking requirements, closures and remote learning for children.

Also subpoenaed Monday was Nina Jankowicz, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s now-defunct Disinformation Governance Board. Jankowicz stepped down from the role in May after being caught in a political firestorm over the creation of the board, which was meant to coordinate the U.S. government’s efforts to treat disinformation as a national security threat.

But the board, which disbanded shortly after she stepped down, was hampered from the start by questions about its purpose, funding and work that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas struggled to answer even as he appeared in front of lawmakers last spring.

In the subpoena letter, Jordan said the committee is seeking testimony from Jankowicz regarding how the board planned to approach countering misinformation and “how it proposed to protect First Amendment rights.”

In response, Jankowicz said that she will “happily testify” about her time on the board but criticized the subpoena, saying Jordan’s “abuse of congressional oversight powers is about to get wildly out of control.”

“His ‘weaponization’ committee is the entity that is actually weaponizing our government, and the American people deserve better,” Jankowicz said in a statement to The Associated Press. “I am ready to continue to stand up for the truth, as I have done my entire career, and I will not be cowed by conspiracy theories or intimidation.”

___ Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.

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