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PolitiFact VA: Earle-Sears falsely accuses justice department of going after Virginia parents

Person speaks at podium
File photo: Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at a 2022 event at the Virginia War Memorial. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Speaker: Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears
Statement: Merrick Garland “sicced the police on parents when they were at the school boards simply trying to be heard for the safety of their children.”
Date: May 12, 2022
Setting: TV interview

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears recently said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland “sicced police” on parents who spoke out at school board meetings.

Her statement came at the start of a May 12 television interview on “Fox & Friends.” Earle-Sears, a Republican, was asked why Virginia was “tolerating” protests outside the Fairfax County homes of three U.S. Supreme Court justices who endorsed a draft ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“We’re not tolerating it,” she replied. “In fact, our governor has had the state police outside of their homes this whole time since the very first time it started.

“What we need now is for Merrick Garland to go ahead and do his job,” she continued.  “You saw that he sicced the police on parents when they were at the school boards simply trying to be heard for the safety of their children.”

Earle-Sears said Garland should be enforcing a federal law that bars protests near a judge’s residence that are aimed at influencing the “discharge of his duty.” She accused Garland of “selectively enforcing the laws” and offered his actions on demonstrations at school board meetings as an example.

Earle-Sears is entitled to her opinion on Garland’s fairness. But her claim that he “sicced the police on parents” doesn’t hold up. A number of conservatives have made similar statements, and fact checkers have found them False.

We tried four times to contact Earle-Sears and her office and did not get a reply. Her claim is likely based on Garland’s October 2021 order that the FBI work with local governments to help handle what he called, "a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence" against school board members and educators.

School systems in Virginia and across the nation had seen angry protests against mandatory mask wearing for students, transgender accomodation policies and the alleged teaching of critical race theory. 

A raucous school board meeting in Loudoun County was recessed in June 2021 and resulted in the arrest of a father whose 15-year-old daughter had been sexually assaulted in a high school girls bathroom by a male student. Prosecutors later said the attacker was wearing a dress but did not characterize his gender identity.

Garland’s order came six days after Biden received a letter from the National School Boards Association asking "for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation." The association said the uprisings “could be the the equivalent of domestic terrorism,” a claim it subsequently retracted. 

Garland's order did not direct localities to increase police presence at school board meetings or make arrests — local decisions that the attorney general does not control. An accompanying justice department news release said the order would establish training to help school board members “understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and how to capture and preserve evidence of threatening conduct to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.”

Republicans grilled Garland about the order during an October 2021 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. He said parents have a constitutional right to complain about their children’s education at school board meetings and that he could not “imagine a situation where [that] would be labeled as domestic terrorism.”

“I want to be as clear as I can be,” he said. “This is not about what happens at school board meetings. It’s only about the threats of violence and violence aimed at school officials, employees and teachers.”

Garland said federal officials would not be attending school board meetings and that his order did not suggest otherwise.

Our ruling

Earle-Sears said, Garland “sicced the police on parents when they were at the school boards simply trying to be heard for the safety of their children.” The word “sic” is defined as “chase, attack — usually as a command especially to a dog.”

Her comment apparently refers to Garland’s order in 2021 that the FBI work with local governments to help handle a national spike in threats against local school board members. Garland has said his goal is to enhance safety by training board members and educators how to recognize and report threats.

Garland has no power to ramp up local police protection at school board meetings and has said that federal officials will not be attending them. He has said parents have a constitutional right to speak out at school board meetings. There is nothing in his order that says otherwise.

We rate Earle-Sears' statement False.

Sources
Winsome Earle-Sears, Fox & Friends interview, May 12, 2022 (1:15 mark)
Associated Press, “County, Governor Spar Over Protests at Justices' Homes,” May 12, 2022
The Washington Post, “McCarthy’s false claim that Garland called parents ‘terrorists,’” April 28, 2022
The New York Times, “How a School District Got Caught in Virginia’s Political Maelstrom,” Nov. 14, 2021
Legal Information Institute, 18 U.S. Code § 1507, accessed May 19, 2022
PolitiFact, “No, parents who question school curriculums haven’t been labeled domestic terrorists,” Oct. 18, 2021
PolitiFact, “Rick Scott wrongly warns FBI coming after loud parents at school board meetings.” Oct. 11, 2021
PolitiFact Virginia, “Youngkin fancifully links McAuliffe to federal order on school meetings,” Oct. 6, 2021
U.S. Justice Department, Memorandum: Partnership to address threats against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff, Oct. 4, 2021
U.S. Justice Department, Justice Department Addresses Violent Threats Against School Officials and Teachers, Oct. 4, 2021
National School Boards Association, Letter to President Joe Biden, Sept. 29, 2021
Merrick Garland, testimony to House Judiciary Committee, Oct. 21, 2021
Garland, memorandum, Oct. 4, 2021