One day after Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to prosecute “harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” by parents against school boards, two board members in Michigan reported a mother to the Justice Department and her employer for criticizing COVID school closures.
The board members, Frank Bednard and Elizabeth Pyden, alleged the mother, Sandra Hernden, showed “disrespect,” making “over dramatic” comments about COVID-19 school policies and threatening to sue the district if it kept interrupting her at board meetings, Just the News reported.
Last October, Garland directed the Justice Department to form a joint task force to investigate alleged threats against school board members. The directive came after the National School Boards Association asked the Biden administration in a September 2021 letter to probe parents protesting at school board meetings as domestic terrorists under the Patriot Act. Since then, FBI whistleblowers have disclosed to lawmakers that the bureau opened multiple investigations into parents protesting education policies, the Washington Examiner reported in May.
The mother, Hernden, is a police detective. She told board members her special-needs child was failing academically because of remote learning.
She now has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Michigan’s Chippewa Valley Schools and the board members.
The lawyer for the district contends the board has no involvement in the case, arguing the elected board members were merely exercising their First Amendment rights as private citizens.
Hernden is seeking to remove qualified immunity from the board members for violating “a clearly defined constitutional right.” However, she will ask for no more than $1 in nominal damages, according to Holly Wetzel, director of public relations for Hernden’s lawyers at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan.
Wetzel told Just the News the legal team wants to find out whom Bednard contacted at the Justice Department and whether or not the DOJ fulfilled his request to use federal resources against Hernden and her nonprofit activist group, Moms for Liberty.
In the fall of 2020, Hernden objected to the district’s decision to continue remote learning, forwarding an article arguing the school closures were not based on science. That prompted a contentious email exchange with Pyden, the board secretary.
Pyden wrote on Dec. 10 that schools can reopen only “when we can guarantee that doing so can be done safely.” Herndon replied by questioning how Pyden, a lawyer, was “qualified to make any rational medical decision.” Her “political agenda,” Hernden wrote, should not prevent Hernden’s child from going to school. The mother also referred to a local student who had committed suicide during remote learning. Payden accused Hernden of “misinformation” and refuse to engage with her further.
In an Oct. 4, 2021 email to Bednard, Hernden cited a July ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned an Ohio school district public comment policy because it “prohibit[s] speech purely because it disparages or offends.”
“Maybe a Lil more due care and caution at the next meeting Frank,” she wrote, warning Bednard to stop interrupting her during public comment. “1st 2 were free.”
The next day, Bednard forwarded her email to the board, Superintendent Roberts, and the Justice Department along with a complaint about Hernden and her group.
The complaint to DOJ alludes to Garland’s letter directing the Justice Department to form a joint task force to investigate threats against school board members. Bernard thanked the DOJ for “looking into these groups of people who bring such threats to anybody that stands in their way.”
“This woman, Sandra Hernden, comes to every meeting to harass our board, administration, and community who oppose her views,” he wrote. “She is over dramatic, and refuses to listen to any direction I may give her about her inappropriate and threatening comments.”
However, reports Just the News, the only example Bednard offered was Hernden’s comparison of Nazi Germany’s tattoos for Jews to school mask mandates.
Bernard complained to the DOJ that Hernden was among 10-15 people who were showing up at every meeting and were “so intimidating, no community members who oppose their message will come to the meeting to speak.”
“Anything that could be done to curb this behavior by these people would be greatly appreciated by our board, administration, and our community,” he wrote to the DOJ.