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The Impact of Hostility on School Board Officials Mirrors Experiences of Other Local Officials

Updated: May 2

CivicPulse has been tracking threats and harassments against local elected officials serving in municipalities, counties, and townships since June of 2022. The data, collected in partnership with the Bridging Divides Initiative (BDI) at Princeton University, indicate that these experiences continue to occur at an alarmingly high rate (see Threats & Harassment Dashboard).

Expanding Tracking to School Board Officials 

In response to increased media coverage of school boards, CivicPulse and BDI have expanded to include a representative sample of school board officials, including elementary, secondary, unified, and independent charter districts.  

While fewer school board officials experience threats and harassment than city, town, and county officials, these experiences remain far higher than acceptable with 1 out of 10 school board officials receiving threats of physical violence in the first three months of 2024.



However, it is important to consider that historically, school boards have been viewed as a volunteer activity predicated on shared interest in the welfare of children. The fact that these experiences are occurring to the extent that they are is especially alarming. For example, one school board official from Pennsylvania simply commented, “it’s not right what we’ve had to endure.” 

Similar Impact of Hostility on School Board Officials as Other Public Officials 

Notably, the impacts of hostility on school board officials have been similarly pernicious as those we’ve reported before for general-purpose government officials. Over half of local elected officials across roles are now questioning whether to stay in politics – showcasing the chilling effect such experiences are continuing to have on democratic processes in America.  

In fact, although decreased willingness to run for re-election was similar across roles, school board officials were even more likely than town, city, and county officials to indicate a decreased willingness to run for a higher office. This phenomenon is possibly due to school board officials’ awareness of the even higher rates at which city council and county officials face threats and harassment.  



Meanwhile, some city, county, and town officials may be experiencing these acts of intimidation so frequently that they have become desensitized to the severity of such actions. Several officials provided comments that indicate threats and harassment have become commonplace. One municipal official from Maine noted, “as terrible as it sounds...it is what it is and part of the job.” This could account for the lower effect such events have on restricting their willingness to participate in a myriad of public activities. 

Survey Background

The research underlying this brief was built on data from a national random-sample of over 2,000 elected policymakers from local governments (i.e., township, municipality, and county governments) with a population of 1,000 or more. The survey was developed in collaboration with Bridging Divides Initiative and was implemented by CivicPulse.

Below is the question wording for the survey items that were used:

In your capacity as a public official, please indicate whether you have experienced any of the following types of incidents in the last three months or so. If you have held your office for less time than that, please answer for the amount of time you have held your position. If appropriate, you may select ‘Yes’ to multiple items for the same experience.

In the last three months or so, have you been...

Rows:

  • Insulted verbally, in writing, or online

  • Harassed verbally, in writing, or online

  • Threatened verbally, in writing, or online

  • Attacked physically

Response Options:

  • Yes

  • No

To what extent have concerns about insults, harassment, threats, or attacks negatively impacted your willingness to do each of the following: 

Rows: ​ 

  • Run for re-election​ 

  • Run for another/higher office​ 

  • Work on controversial topics​ 

  • Participate in events in public spaces​ 

  • Post on social media​ 

  • Be in public spaces when not working​ 

Response options: ​ 

  • A lot 

  • Somewhat 

  • A little 

  • Not at all 


Media Contact

Nathan Lee, PhD

Managing Director of CivicPulse

(618) 319-3404

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