U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 27.

School board meetings frequently serve as hotbeds of community passions. But finding four dead rodents on her front lawn was the last straw for school board member Carolyn Waibel in St. Charles, Ill., a typically harmonious community.

Understandably, she resigned.

The dead creatures had followed other vandalism, nasty emails and vitriolic social media posts, she told reporters, and she had enough. Her case hardly stands alone.

Reports of raucous protests and harassment of school board members have surged nationwide and into earshot of Washington leaders, opening yet another new front in today’s politicized culture wars.

Congressional Republicans have blasted Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Oct. 4 offer to work with state and local authorities to respond to threats of violence and harassment against school board officials. Critics have called on Garland to rescind his memo after the National School Boards Association retracted a letter to President Joe Biden that suggested “threats and acts of violence” at school board meetings might be “domestic terrorism.”

The NSBA now rightly says there was “no justification for some of the language” in the letter, which led to Garland’s letter.

NSBA’s letter was sent by Chip Slaven, the organization’s interim executive director, and President Viola Garcia without consulting the full board, officials say, although one of Slaven’s emails reportedly indicates they worked with White House staff.

Backlash to the letter was immediate and significant. A reported 21 school board associations distanced themselves from it and state associations in Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania cut ties altogether. But that’s thin soup for Waibel and others who have faced a spike in personal harassment and disrupted meetings in school districts across the country. For example, the NSBA did not retract its listing of more than a dozen states in which meetings had become so unruly that meetings had to be halted or police had to be called.

Issues vary, but the current unrest tends to center on local concerns inflamed by online activists, particularly pandemic-related mask requirements, remote learning and questions of what our children are to be taught about the history of the United Sates.

Thoughtful people should be able to see that objections to Justice Department intrusion into such local matters are not without reason.

Garland’s Oct. 4 letter directs the FBI, “working with each United States attorney” to convene meetings with federal, state and local leaders in each judicial district without 30 days of the memorandum. But it doesn’t detail the federal authority under which the attorney general is operating or offer hard evidence of the “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” that allegedly makes it necessary.

Since parents conceivably could be investigated under the Patriot Act for trying to influence what their own children are being taught, they have a right to be concerned. So do we all. No wonder the issue of parents potentially being treated like terrorists, surged into national politics after Garland’s memo was released.

Most dramatically it has entered Virginia’s pivotal gubernatorial race, where former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, looked headed for an easy win over Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin — until Youngkin embraced “education” as an issue.

That followed a damaging sound bite by McAuliffe during a debate in which he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach.” The quote turned into campaign ads that apparently were so effective that McAuliffe later released an ad touting how much he welcomed input from parents in the education of their kids. As he should.

All of this demonstrates how important this issue is to parents and others in communities across the country. It is they, working with local police and education officials and not the feds who should be responsible for keeping order in their local school board meetings.

But Americans on both sides of this issue should hear this loud and clear: Order must be kept.

It serves the best interest of all concerned — parents, teachers, governing bodies and other interested parties — to maintain civility in conducting their business, no matter how passionate their concerns may be. When everybody is talking — or shouting — no one can really hear them anyway, let alone come around to a new point of view.

Whatever their political leanings or ideological interpretation of history, parents have a legitimate interest in their children’s education and the right to express a preference in a democratic forum. And Waibel did not deserve rodents on her front lawn. No elected or duly appointed official deserves such a terrifying intrusion.

In America, being educated means you have learned that all of these things can be true at once.

Civility matters, as does respect for those with whom you disagree, especially on complex issues such as education and public health.

All grown-ups should teach that to their children, and their communities should expect no less from every adult in the room.