A convoluted and factually flimsy online campaign has conservative activists and some parents using arcane legal mechanisms to bully school districts into mandating masks and vaccines, even in districts where those policies aren’t in place.
In recent weeks, people have shown up at school board meetings in at least 10 states demanding, sometimes loudly, financial documents that some districts don’t even have.
Here is a representative example. A parent recently showed up at a school board meeting in Michigan’s Gladwin District, which has 1,600 students, with a bizarre request: Show me your bond so I can file a lawsuit against him that you violate the constitutional rights of students by requiring masks.
But Superintendent Rick Seebeck does not have a bond in his name, and only unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID-19 are required to wear masks.
“People are not interested in the truth. They are not interested in your policies,” Seebeck said. “They are interested in the sport of attending a public meeting and throwing bombs.”
School board members and district leaders in some states are required to hold bonds, which provide legal and financial coverage in cases where the bond holder commits fraud or another crime that harms the school district. Some bonds allow individual members of the public to make claims against them, while others only allow, for example, the school district itself to make a claim.
Demands like the one Seebeck experienced have popped up in districts across the country, including ArizonaCaliforniaIllinoisIowaMichiganMontanaNorth CarolinaVirginiaand Wisconsin. Sometimes, like in Elmhurst, Illinois.the person making the request admits they don’t even have a child in school.
These demands to eliminate mask and vaccine mandates come as many states and school districts are already taking these steps.
“Everyone in the education community goes there, we don’t really understand what they’re trying to accomplish,” said Cindy Wilkerson, executive director of Schools Insurance Group, an insurance cooperative for K-12 districts in California.
But school insurance experts told Education Week that requiring a mask to be worn does not violate the terms of bonds or school insurance policies. And many of these threats to file claims have not even been followed by actual filings.
A coordinated and convoluted effort to destabilize school boards
Parents or other adults who attend school board meetings have announced that they plan to “serve” the district with requests for bonds and insurance policies. In some cases, they have followed these announcements with detailed requests for open records, which sometimes last for several pages.
Less often, school districts will receive documents that purport to represent claims against these bonds or insurance policies. Virtually all of the claims that have surfaced in recent weeks have been found to be baseless, or they have failed to make a specific allegation with valid supporting evidence, said Francisco Negrón, legal director for the National School Boards. Association, which has 3,200 lawyers who represent school boards among its members.
Local California citizens have been submitting data requests regarding bonds and insurance policies since the start of the year, Wilkerson said. State headteachers do not have individual bonds; instead, school boards are covered by a liability insurance policy.
To be taken seriously, a legitimate claim against one of these policies would require the plaintiff to illustrate a concrete action and the damage caused by that action.
“When people want someone to stop doing something, that’s usually not an insurance trigger,” Wilkerson said.
Many of these efforts appear to be inspired by a website, Bonds for the Win, which has surfaced in recent weeks urging parents to storm school board meetings with demands for bail bonds and insurance policies. responsibility. The website includes lists of bail details for virtually every district in California, Arizona and Washington, and links to pages on the Telegram social media platform, a frequent hangout for groups far right and white supremacy., to coordinate efforts in each of the 50 states. The group’s Telegram page currently has more than 19,000 subscribers.
The website offers some clues about the group’s goals. A question-and-answer section asserts that a person whose surety receives too many claims could be barred from holding public office or obtaining another public surety; two school insurance experts told Education Week they don’t believe that’s true. A page titled “Stop the Tyranny Fight Back” lists 10 targets of the group’s wrath, including vaccine mandates, mask mandates, lockdowns, business closures and critical race theory.
The website links to a PayPal Donations page to “build a team of professionals to help people obtain and file bail claims against their school districts and local authorities at no cost to them.” According to this page, the group raised $14,000 towards their goal of $20,000.
One of the website’s founders, Miki Klann, lists a slogan for the QAnon conspiracy movement in her profile biography on the social media platform Telegram, according to a report by Vice News.. Several other known QAnon-affiliated disinformation spreaders have promoted the campaign against school boards in recent weeks, Vice reported.
Bonds for the Win also seems to have an eye on the local office. A recent Telegram post from the group highlighted a man who acquired the bonds for his California school district and submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for 300 others. The post links to the man’s Venmo account and ends by urging followers to support his candidacy for county supervisor, an elected position in local government.
School administrators are struggling to keep pace with the ongoing chaos
When school districts receive requests for bonds or insurance policies, or claims against those policies, they are often legally compelled to scramble to respond. Already overburdened administrators face new piles of paperwork to sift through.
Mark Stockwell, executive director of the Missouri United School Insurance Council (MUSIC), received a call earlier this month from someone who wanted to file a claim against a school board member’s bond. Stockwell told him that only the district treasurer has a bond in his name and that district leaders are instead covered by a liability policy. The person asked to see the policy, but Stockwell told her she would have to file an open records request with the district.
“She hoped their deductible would be raised so they could punish school board members for voting for masks,” Stockwell said.
A week later, five or six district managers in the state contacted Stockwell to say they had received requests from Sunshine Law for their bonds and liability insurance.
“It probably takes someone in their office a few hours to compile the information,” Stockwell said. “It’s not a terrible burden. It’s just wasted effort.
In Gladwin, the bail request is just the latest in a growing series of political battles that have appalled Seebeck, who led the district for 17 years.
Parents have attended school board meetings with printouts from obscure websites falsely claiming that vaccinating children would prevent them from having children of their own. Social media groups have formed to criticize the district’s COVID-19 protocols. Community members even verbally attacked Seebeck’s daughter, a junior in high school, over her father’s decision-making.
Seebeck has known many of his constituents for years. He sees them at the grocery store, at basketball games, on a walk in his neighborhood.
“None of these people who behave this way are bad people. They’re all good people. They’re passionate about something,” Seebeck said. “We used to handle passion civilly. doesn’t happen anymore.
Seebeck and other administrators urge those frustrated with school policies to pursue legitimate avenues to address those concerns, such as filing a Title IX complaint or civil action.
“If I’m violating a child’s constitutional rights, I want to know about it,” Seebeck said. “If I really am, I should be held accountable.”