In February 2022, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) retained attorney Philip Kiko and the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP to conduct an independent review of the events and procedures surrounding the September 29, 2021, letter sent from the NSBA to President Biden requesting federal investigation of and assistance with events at school board meetings.
The review is now complete, and the NSBA is implementing a number of action items moving forward based on today’s findings (summarized below), building on the significant steps they have already taken to address this matter. The NSBA announces these changes today under the leadership of Executive Director & CEO John Heim and the Board of Directors.
Independent Review Findings
The review revealed the following:
- The September 2021 letter was “principally directed, reviewed, and approved by” NSBA’s former Interim Director and CEO Chip Slaven, who was responsible for both the “origin and substance of the letter.”
- Other than review by four Board Officers, the letter was not widely reviewed or approved within the organization, and the finalized letter was not disclosed to the full NSBA Board of Directors or NSBA members until after it was submitted.
- The review points to collaboration between Mr. Slaven and the White House, but “did not find direct or indirect evidence suggesting the Administration requested the letter.”
“The letter directly contradicts our core commitments to parent engagement, local control, and nonpartisanship,” said NSBA Executive Director & CEO John Heim. “The sentiments shared in the letter do not represent the views or position of the NSBA. The NSBA does not seek or advocate for federal law enforcement intervention at local school board meetings.”
“Sending the letter without full Board approval highlighted a concerning lack of internal process and accountability and harmed the mission of our organization,” added Dr. Heim. “While the events as recounted in the review are unfortunate, there are a number of important takeaways that will help our organization as we move forward.”
“As you saw in the report, a draft of the letter was shared with the Board Officers,” shared NSBA Board President Frank S. Henderson, Jr. “We regret that we did not review the letter more closely at the time. We apologized in 2021 and acknowledged that the letter should have never been sent—the sentiments shared do not represent the Board’s views or the views of the NSBA. We are focused now on implementing processes to ensure this does not happen again.”
NSBA Action and Next Steps
Notably, this process has pushed the NSBA to re-emphasize our core commitments as an organization.
- We are nonpartisan and are committed to using our voice to advocate for federal policies that strengthen public education.
- We advocate for local control and believe decisions about a child’s education are best made at the local level.
- We are committed to parent engagement and understand that the role of parents in their child’s education is paramount.
The NSBA is implementing a number of policy changes to activate on these core commitments and ensure this does not happen again, building on the significant steps already taken to address this matter, including:
- Commissioned an independent review.
- The Board of Directors apologized in October 2021 and announced new executive leadership for the organization in November 2021 (with Dr. Heim replacing Mr. Slaven).
- Amended our constitution to refine the scope of our advocacy to “a united, non-partisan national movement.”
- Adopted a resolution opposing federal intrusion and the expansion of executive authority by the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies in the absence of authorizing legislation.
- Amended our belief statement to include the following: “NSBA believes school boards must lead through community engagement, particularly with parents and guardians of the students they serve. NSBA urges school boards to encourage and support partnerships between schools, communities, community organizations, families and local government that bring together critical resources and enhance strategies that help students master academic and life skills and develop civic responsibility, and address students’ emotional, social and physical well-being at school and beyond.”
- The Board of Directors is working to take immediate action based on these findings to develop new processes and policies, including clear protocols for communication with the Administration and Congress and governance structures that fully define the role of the Board of Directors and Executive Director.
The NSBA was founded 80 years ago because school board members believed that a unified national organization of public education leaders was essential. Today, each school board association and every school board member continues to play a critical role in bringing about powerful change.
“Looking ahead, I am eager to continue our joint focus on the most important work at hand—ensuring that every child has equitable access to excellent education,” said Dr. Heim. “We must continue to prioritize the pressing topics impacting our students and teachers—this work includes supporting historically disadvantaged students, increasing broadband internet access to close the ‘homework gap,’ ensuring every classroom is staffed with a highly qualified teacher, supporting students with disabilities and mental health needs, and addressing the learning loss stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
About the Review
The NSBA retained attorney Philip Kiko and the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP to conduct an independent review of the events and procedures surrounding the September 29, 2021, letter to the President requesting federal investigation of and assistance with events at school board meetings. The review was conducted independently from the influence of the NSBA, its staff, and Board of Directors—the NSBA did not impose any constraints on the review, provided access to all relevant materials requested by Counsel, and provided their full cooperation.
In total, Counsel conducted interviews with 30 individuals, including NSBA staff and other NSBA parties. Counsel further conducted an exhaustive search of publicly available data, documents, and news articles and reports; issued formal FOIA requests for any information and documents to the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and made a formal request for assistance and cooperation with this review by the White House.
Philip Kiko is an attorney and the former Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives under two different Speakers. Michael Best & Friedrich LLP is a full-service law firm with more than 350 lawyers and technical professors who work in collaborative, interdisciplinary practices to serve clients around the world.
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