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Once considered mundane, school board meetings becoming heated, violent

The trend is happening in the Portland metro area and beyond.

PORTLAND, Ore. — There was once a time when your local school board meeting was, to be honest, a little boring. And if you've been paying attention to the news in the last year or so, you already know that's no longer the case.

Back in August, a group of people rallied outside a Beaverton School Board meeting. They were aggravated because they weren't allowed to come inside and speak out against masks and critical race theory, which is not taught in K-12 public schools in Oregon, Washington or any other state. The August protest drew counter-protesters -- and a lot of people ended up yelling at each other in the streets.

The same group brought guns to a school board candidate forum in Beaverton earlier this year. 

There have been several other instances throughout the year when meetings have had to be shut down, or be moved to a virtual format, because of threats against school board members or unruly crowds. 

Just last month, the Oregon Capital Chronicle reported the school board meeting in tiny North Bend, Oregon had to be shut down because hundreds of demonstrators planned to flood the meeting and the police force there knew they wouldn't be able to handle those crowds.

RELATED: Anti-mask protesters lead to cancellation of Coeur d'Alene school board meeting, district office lockdown

This of course isn't limited to Oregon and Washington. Throughout the country this year, people have stormed school board meetings. For example, a school board meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho was shut down last month because of an aggressive crowd screaming obscenities.

School board members across the country have been harassed and threatened, people have been following them, or protesting outside their homes. 

The National School Boards Association sent a letter to the Department of Justice last month saying, in part:

"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."

It goes on to ask the Biden administration for federal law enforcement help to deal with a growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation against school board members. It also asked the federal government to investigate and prevent these threats.

But the organizers of some of the groups who show up to school board meetings didn't appreciate being likened to terrorists. KGW News spoke with Oregon Moms Union, a conservative political action group taking on public schools.

"I think that parents are really the best advocates for their kids. And I think at this point, they're really frustrated with the lack of acknowledgment of their opinions from school board members. I think that's really kind of what we're seeing," said Mackensey Pulliam with Oregon Moms United. 

The National School Boards Association put out another letter last week apologizing for the language they used in the first letter. Although it didn't specifically apologize for using the term "domestic terrorism," it did say that the organization should've reviewed the note better before sending it. But it said there's still important work to be done to keep school board members and educators safe.

KGW News spoke with Brandy Penner, who is on the Newberg School Board. They've seen an enormous amount of national attention in the last few months after passing a ban on Pride, Black Lives Matter, and other political symbols in schools.

RELATED: Dozens in Newberg rally against hate amid ban on political signs

Penner voted against the ban, but the four other board members who voted to pass it are actually suing their own constituents, saying they've had their private information published on social media and they don't feel safe in Newberg anymore.

Penner says in the four years that she's been a school board member, she has seen meetings get a lot more heated.

"I too have had to take some, some measures for my personal safety and my family's safety. I think that we're hearing that from board members across the state, this isn't unfortunately just a Newberg thing," Penner said. "With the rise of extremism, we're seeing board members become lightning rods for everything from anti-masking to vaccines, to critical race theory."

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