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EXCLUSIVE – The former interim executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, Chip Slaven, spoke with Fox News Digital to clear the record about the infamous letter he sent to the Biden administration, as well as to comment on the organization’s recent independent report that appeared to place the blame squarely on him.
During the two-hour interview, Slaven rebutted the notion that the White House asked for the letter, he explained the backstory behind his concerns about the rising threats against school board members, and said the narrative that the NSBA intended to call parents “domestic terrorists” had gotten out of hand and was not based on fact.
The NSBA a the letter to President Biden in September 2021 which asked for incidents at school board meetings to be federally looked into, and said that school officials were facing threats and violence. Most notably, the NSBA requested that actions should be examined under the PATRIOT Act as domestic terrorism.
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“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes… As such, NSBA requests a joint expedited review by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, and Homeland Security, along with… the FBI, including… its National Security Branch and Counterterrorism Division, as well as any other federal agency with relevant jurisdictional authority and oversight,” the letter said.
The NSBA apologized for the language in the letter, a move Slaven said he disagreed with at the time. He believed it drenched an already inflamed and out-of-control narrative with another helping of gasoline. Additionally, Slaven said he disagreed with the way the NSBA refrained from forcefully correcting the narrative.
“I was prevented from defending the organization and… they got very bad advice from that PR firm, by the way… [It] was incredibly bad advice.”
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The independent review released by the NSBA found that the letter was “principally directed, reviewed, and approved by” Slaven, who was responsible for the “origin and substance of the letter.” It also claimed that 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.”
Slaven said it wasn’t true that higher-ups were totally in the dark about the letter. The letter had two signatures: Slaven and then-NSBA President Viola Garcia, who was later appointed by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to sit on the National Assessment Governing Board and oversee the nation’s education report card.
Slaven added that as he was new to the interim role, and said he went above and beyond NSBA norms to screen the letter and get feedback.
Fox News Digital reached out to the NSBA for comment and was referred to the previously released report. “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,” said the NSBA.
Slaven continued, “I considered the real betrayal concerning the report is the fact that it essentially clears me of not following policy. I did follow the policy, [as] they pointed out;… I did exactly what had gone on for years. Maybe there should be a new process. That’s fine… [However,] the [report]… uses words like I didn’t explicitly violate policy or whatever, which is a way of saying for people – wink, nod – he implicitly did. We got rid of him, problem is solved. Everything’s okay,” Slaven said.
“The [NSBA] report’s disingenuous in a lot of ways. It doesn’t really touch on what happened around the apology, which I was completely backstabbed at a board meeting about that issue… There were a lot of things like that that occurred that left my head scratching at the time,” he said. “I felt betrayed, I guess, by [some of the] officers… when they issued the apology, announced the apology, and didn’t bother to at least tell me. And the excuse given… was not enough time or too late or something like that. That was bull. [They] just chose not to include me.”
Slaven also pushed back on the notion that parents were called domestic terrorists in the letter.
“The word parents is not in the letter anywhere, and that is not being pointed out at all,” Slaven said.
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However, in the footnotes, incidents relating to parents at school board meetings were included. On this point, Slaven explained, “I agree that parents certainly attend school board meetings and there’s probably a majority of parents. And yeah, there were some incidents that included parents, but some incidents didn’t include parents.”
He continued, “I’m always concerned about someone blowing up in a meeting [and taking] action they haven’t thought through clearly… I was worried that if we’re a country with a lot of people carrying guns each day, that it could escalate.”
Leading up to the drafting of the letter in September 2021, Slaven said the Proud Boys, not parents, caught his attention. Additionally, he believed the threats against school board members were dangerous and potentially organized, and that they ultimately interfered with the health of democracy.
“It was really much more than just what happened at a school board meeting,” he said. “Some of the most troubling incidents were things that were happening due to board members through telephone calls and threats, through the mail and email messages, and things that were, if not criminal, were right on the border. And I think it was an attempt to scare people from running for office again or resigning or retiring from their positions.”
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“Yes, I understand some people will react harshly to [the language in the letter]. But… if you look at the FBI definition of what terrorism is [threats and violence elected members faced] can be terrorism,” Slaven, who is also an attorney, said. “But we didn’t say anyone should be called a domestic terrorist. What the letter points out is that some incidents could be considered acts of terror… or hate crimes. And that’s absolutely true. So why are we being around the bush and not just saying it?”
Following the September letter, on Oct. 4, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum instructing the FBI to collaborate with state and local leaders to address “threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” He went on to say that this collaboration “will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.”
After the memorandum, there was an explosion of criticism. “I’ll be honest, when it was asked by a reporter at the White House press briefing, I was shocked,” Slaven said.
In December, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), subpoenaed the Department of Justice and accused the Biden administration of colluding with the NSBA to produce the letter in order to justify activating the FBI to look into local school board meetings.
“That letter served as the basis for the Attorney General to weaponize federal law enforcement and counterterrorism tools against those same citizens for exercising their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children,” Jordan said.
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Slaven, as well as the NSBA independent investigation, disputed the allegation that the letter was initiated or coerced by the Biden administration. “That narrative that the White House has somehow orchestrated… is really disingenuous… I would say that not only did they not ask for the letter, [but] they [also] did not encourage a letter,” Slaven said.
“Congress is attempting to chill the speech of every public education advocate and organization in Washington, D.C., by scaring them… [into] thinking, ‘You better watch out. If you write a letter like this or a letter we don’t agree with, we can launch an investigation. We’ll investigate you, who you wrote the letter to, as a way to subpoena you and bring you in to talk about it. And I find that is what’s chilling,” he added.
“It’s fine to disagree with [the letter], but to actually try and investigate it, you know, a letter warning about threats, [is problematic]” Slaven said. “We’ve got to we got to calm the temperature down here a little bit. People… should not hate the organization that represents school boards [even] if you disagree with them.”
When Slaven told the White House he was writing the letter they asked for a copy.
“They wrote and said, ‘would you mind sharing a copy?’ I didn’t want to do that yet because I hadn’t finalized it… But I also, at the same time, understood why they were interested in seeing it. And so I [shared it with the White House]. I gave them some descriptions of some things we might ask [for]… and I didn’t receive a response at all. So I didn’t get a ‘This is great.’ You know, ‘I can’t wait to read it.’ I didn’t get a ‘No, this is a bad idea. Hold off.’ And I didn’t even get a ‘Thank you, I received it.’ I got nothing.”
Slaven corresponded with former White House senior adviser Mary Wall – who had “advance knowledge of the planned letter and its specific contents” – the independent investigation said. In addition, Wall asked Slaven to provide her with information that she could use to brief the Justice Department.
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“Pursuant to Ms. Wall’s requests, Mr. Slaven provided the White House with an advance summary of the letter’s contents and its list of requests for federal intervention, along with the previously requested list of ‘egregious examples,’ so White House officials could ‘include’ the planned contents of the letter in discussions with the Department of Justice,” the investigation said.
After sending the White House the advanced copy, Slaven said he waited over a week of no response from the Biden administration before he released it.
The source of the claim that the White House requested the letter was an email that came internally from the NSBA. The email said, “I didn’t think the letter fell under an emergency situation, it certainly was not characterized that way when Chip told the officers he was writing a letter to provide information to the White House, from a request by [Education] Secretary [Miguel] Cordona.”
“I can’t understand why she [said] that,” Slaven said.
Fox News Digital reached out to the person who wrote the email but did not immediately receive a response.
Despite all that has happened, Slaven maintains that he is passionate about the NSBA’s mission.
“I love the NSBA… And I love just about all the people I worked with,” Slaven said.
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He also adds that he stands by the letter’s contents even to this day.
“Hindsight’s 2020. So… I can’t go back in time… But I am proud of what we did, and I stand by it. And I don’t think we have anything to apologize for, for calling out the issue around violence and threats. I am sorry that so many people have been impacted by it and have to deal with it now… because of the letter and not because of the issue.”