Garland is set to face intense questioning over controversial school board note and other ongoing crises

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Attorney General Merrick Garland is due to testify on Thursday in his first oversight hearing with the House Judiciary Committee – offering opportunities for both sides of the aisle to press him on key issues.

The Texas abortion ban, voting rights, the border crisis and the January 6 riots could all be important topics that captured attention during his brief time as the head of the Department of Justice (DOJ ). Republicans will likely focus on Garland’s recent memo, announcing that the FBI will investigate parental threats or intimidation against school boards across the United States.

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Here’s what to expect in terms of the issues surrounding education:

Are Parents Domestic Terrorists?

Garland’s memo combined two already explosive political issues – domestic terrorism and critical race theory (CRT) – in a way that will likely spark questions about parental rights. Republicans have expressed a desire to determine how the DOJ views the alleged threats from parents. What they see as a popular uprising has been denigrated by the National School Board Association (NSBA) for including bullying and harassment.

garland note did not use the term “domestic terrorist” and clarified that “heated debate” was not the target of his investigation. But many have raised concerns about the timing of Garland’s memo, which was released just days after the NSBA sent a letter to the Biden administration suggesting the parents may be engaging in domestic terrorism. .

The letter went on to ask the administration to review its powers under the Patriot Act, the sweeping surveillance legislation passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The Garland family’s involvement in the education sector

Shortly after Garland’s note, news surfaced that his son-in-law Xan Tanner co-founded an education consulting firm that not only pushed CRT-related ideas but also provided services to school districts across the country. country. Garland’s ties to the company have raised questions about how much benefit his family could gain from law enforcement cracking down on school board opposition.

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The company, Panorama Education, said it supports “13 million students in districts of all shapes and sizes. More than 50 of the country’s 100 largest districts and state agencies use Panorama Education, including the New York City Department of Education, Clark County School District (Nevada), Dallas ISD (Texas) and the Hawaii Department of Education. ”

Forbes.com reported that the company also generated tens of millions of dollars in business investment in addition to $ 27 million in payments from school systems between 2017 and 2020. Since 2017, it has reportedly seen its business nearly quadruple. The number of school systems she has worked with has grown from 400 to 1,500, as reported in a recent press release.

Details of the investigation and the implications for freedom of expression

Garland’s memo indicated a concern for free speech, stating: “While heated debate on political issues is protected by our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to to intimidate people based on their opinions. “

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Regardless, critics have raised concerns about the investigation, which injects federal law enforcement into an area usually reserved for state and local governments.

Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Sent Garland a letter earlier this month expressing concern that the investigation would cool constitutionally protected speech. Calling the letter from the NSBA “pure highlighting,” he also expressed concern over how it portrayed anti-CRT efforts.

Does Critical Race Theory Divide? Does this violate the rights of students and parents?

Much of the debate over CRT centers on whether teaching racial programs contravenes American ideas about equality, justice, and free speech. Across the country, lawsuits and protests have sprung up alleging that the CRT, which seeks to combat racism, is inherently racist.

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As the country’s top law enforcement official, Garland may wonder if CRT-related classes violate the Constitution and how much parents should have to say about how these classes are taught in schools.

Likewise, Garland may be faced with questions about state laws that attempt to ban CRT and whether those are constitutional. CRT bans have been criticized, among other things, for allegedly violating teachers’ freedom of expression.

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