BOISE — At the fourth and final meeting of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s task force on claims of indoctrination in Idaho schools, the committee finally heard from the public.
Fewer than 20 people signed up to speak, but those who gave testimony offered impassioned opinions to the task force over the course of several hours. The testimony came from people who were in support of and opposed to the committee’s claims and its effort to “protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism.”
“For the last three months, we’ve focused on learning what’s happening in our state, what is this discussion of critical race theory, diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice agenda, whatever the terminology that is being used,” McGeachin, who is running for governor, said at the start of the meeting. “… Today, we are committed to listening to the concerns of the public.”
Some people who spoke expressed appreciation for what the task force was doing and wanted to make sure critical race theory was not being taught in schools. Teachers previously told the Idaho Statesman critical race theory is not taught in K-12 schools.
Others who spoke raised concerns that the task force wanted to stop teaching certain parts of history in school.
A few times during the public comment period, McGeachin told the speakers they needed to maintain decorum.
“We must respect each other and our differences of opinion,” she said.
The room was fairly empty throughout the meeting. Each person who signed up to speak was given ample time to voice their thoughts and faced questions from the task force after their testimony.
Members spent the last portion of the about five-hour meeting discussing and voting on their recommendations.
EDUCATION TASK FORCE SUGGESTS SIX NEXT STEPS
The task force ultimately approved six recommendations during the meeting.
The first one was to repeal language from House Bill 377, the bill passed earlier this year that was sparked by conversations about critical race theory. Members wanted to “replace it with new language, conforming to the Idaho State Constitution, which relates to racist or sexist concepts being taught in public schools.”
“The concern that we found with this law is that it referenced a term, critical race theory, but did not offer any type of definition, or what that is,” McGeachin said.
The second was a recommendation for the State Board and Department of Education. McGeachin said the task force had found some areas when looking at administrative rules that required educators to comply with all federal and state laws. She said she wanted to make sure there weren’t any areas of federal law that teachers had to follow that conflicted with the Idaho Constitution.
The third was to recommend to the Legislature that it develop laws to prohibit the use of federal grant funds that promote “any educational model which promotes race-based stereotypes and biases, or makes claims that any particular race or American system is inherently racist.”
The fourth involved inviting members of the Senate and House Education committees to collaborate with the task force and create more “specific policies” ahead of the legislative session.
The fifth focused on submitting written testimony to the State Board of Education on its proposed policy defining diversity, equity and inclusion for higher education institutions. The board proposed the policy earlier this summer, but did not discuss it at its board meeting this week because members said they wanted to allow more time for public comment. The policy will be discussed again at the board’s meeting in October. At the end of the meeting, McGeachin told the committee members to plan to talk over the phone next week to start developing ideas for the public testimony.
The last proposal affirmed the task force’s support for education choice. The task force put forward an example of an Education Savings Account for students.
‘WE ARE NOT OPPRESSED’
Kayla Dunn, the first person to speak, said she has five children and thought it was time to speak up as a person of color.
“I am here to let everyone know, especially those who are perpetuating the lie that I am oppressed, I am here to let them know that I can speak for myself,” she said.
“I also want to let everyone know that we are also very capable of inventing, that Blacks can build, that we can become Supreme Court justices. … We can also become the president of the United States for two terms. That’s what Blacks can do and we are not oppressed.”
She said America was an incredible country that “offers us limitless possibilities for all people who are willing to dream and work hard.”
Dunn said she is opposed to critical race theory and anything that resembles it. She said she believes critical race theory is the “new Jim Crow” and the “new form of segregation.”
According to the American Bar Association, critical race theory “critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.”
“Anyone who supports CRT is the enemy to all people,” she said.
Amy Henry, a former teacher and parent told the committee how she and the group she cofounded, Parents for Freedom and Liberty, had been working to train parents to pull records on curriculum to see whether critical race theory and social emotional learning was being taught.
“It is,” she said. “I’m sharing for our group because many parents are concerned to speak out to testify and to reveal their names. My story is just one reason why.”
Henry told the task force she and her daughter were doxxed when she was working to push the Nampa School District to remove its mask requirement.
She presented the task force with a series of documents she said were from the Nampa School District, and she took particular issue with teachings having to do with social emotional learning.
Many people had the opposing view as well.
Eric Gironda went up to speak with a KKK poster. He held it up to the task force and talked about his experiences moving to Georgia in 1965 when he was 10.
“Most people nowadays, this is what they think of when they think of the Klan,” he said, holding the poster. “Well, by the time I moved to the South, that was pretty much over … But they never stopped their true purpose. Their true purpose was to make and pass Klan laws in the South.”
That included teaching children a “lily white version” of history, he said.
“My question,” he said. “What makes you folks any different from those people in the South in the ’60s?”
McGeachin said he was impugning the intent of the committee members.
Gironda told the committee it was important to teach children all parts of history.
“In order for us to teach our children how American history is, and was,” he said, “we have to teach the bad things, along with the good.”
A few students spoke as well. Shiva Rajbhandari, a junior at Boise High School who has been a vocal opponent of the task force, said he was “appalled” the task force did not give the public a chance to testify until school had started in the region, making it difficult for students and teachers to make it to the meeting.
“If it weren’t for that, I could guarantee you that this room would be packed,” he said, “with empowered young people working to defend the Constitution and protecting their rights of freedom of expression.”
Rajbhandari said unequivocally that educators were not indoctrinating students to “hate America.” Teachers, he said, had to work twice as hard over the past year dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, and were now being insulted.
He told the task force it would not win.
“You won’t succeed in silencing student voices. You won’t succeed at bringing Idaho back to the 1800s. … And you won’t succeed in being elected to the executive branch of government,” he said.
“We Idahoans are smart, we’re educated, and we can’t be fooled into believing that something exists when the opposite is true.”
Randy Magen, a professor, talked about how children should be taught not what to think, but how to think. It’s important to teach students to be critical thinkers, he said.
“The notion that faculty are able to indoctrinate students is mistaken,” he told the task force.
He encouraged the task force not to look at anything as black and white. The world is not black and white, he said, nor are the students he teaches.
“I think the United States is a great country … and I pray that it always will be a great country,” he said. “The United States I live in has room for different ideas. The United States I live in has room for different ideologies. The United States I live in has room for different theories. The United States I live in has room to talk about critical race theory.”