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Conservative speakers and candidates dominate second education task force meeting

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Branden Durst speaks during the June 24 meeting of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's education task force. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)
Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Branden Durst speaks during the June 24 meeting of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's education task force. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Lt. Gov. McGeachin said the panel has not taken public comment because it does not have recommendations to consider

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s education indoctrination task force met for the second time Thursday at the Statehouse, with the agenda again dominated by a series of conservative speakers who agreed with the task force’s mission.

McGeachin formed the task force herself — it wasn’t created by the Legislature or statute — “to examine indoctrination in Idaho education based on critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism,” she said in announcing the task force in April.

The task force spent four hours Thursday debating whether and how to teach students about race and racism without seeking outside comment from classroom teachers or people of color.

During the initial five-hour meeting May 27, the task force did not accept public comment, either.

McGeachin said Thursday the task force is not taking public comment at this time because the task force hasn’t created a recommendation for the public to comment on.

“We are not at a stage today or we weren’t at a stage last (time) to open up our agendas to public testimony,” McGeachin said. “It’s not because we don’t want to hear from the public, it’s just that at this point we don’t have any recommendations or proposals for consideration. So when we get to that point, we will absolutely open up the committee for that public testimony.”

The committee did not take any votes or issue any recommendations or findings Thursday.

Instead of taking public comment, the committee carved out time for Rep. Priscilla Giddings, the White Bird Republican who is co-chairing the committee. The committee also heard from McGeachin’s summer intern, Boise State University student Brooke Berry and former state legislator Braden Durst, who served in the House and Senate as a Democrat but now is a conservative Republican.

McGeachin, Giddings and Durst are all seeking higher office as Republicans in 2022. McGeachin is running for governor, Giddings is running for lieutenant governor and Durst is running for superintendent of public instruction.

The task force also played segments of a YouTube video from Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman during the meeting.

Giddings said she found examples of indoctrination or critical race theory in libraries, the Idaho Public Television budget, early childhood development programs and “a little bit” in K-12 public schools. She said she was particularly concerned where the words “equity” and “privilege” are used.

Alleged examples of indoctrination Giddings gave included photos of posters at a school pointing out what she described as “kind of negative connotations” about explorers such as Christopher Columbus. Giddings also alleged curriculum provider EL Education is aligned with Black Lives Matter. She also decried classroom lessons designed to have students share examples of privilege and she spoke out against teacher certification lessons that discuss being a more equitable educator.

Multiple presenters also expressed outrage after saying schools teach the United States is a representative democracy when they should teach the United States is a constitutional republic.

“We are committing educational, intellectual fraud on our kids,” task force member and Marsh Valley Middle School Principal Isaac Moffett said. “They are not being taught what they should be taught. They are being shortchanged.”

Moffat emphasized he was speaking for himself, not speaking on behalf of a school.

McGeachin said the task force invited Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and the State Board of Education to present Thursday. McGeachin said Ybarra declined because she was traveling, while the State Board of Education opted to submit written comments instead.

State Board of Education President Kurt Liebich issued a statement Thursday afternoon elaborating on his decision.

Liebich said he and State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman participated in a phone call with McGeachin and Giddings on June 8, when they were asked to make a presentation and answer questions.

“I was noncommittal, expressing my concern about statements made by some task force members during the first meeting and its overall tone,” Liebich wrote.

In the statement, Liebich reiterated his support for schools and teachers.

“To date, I have not seen any evidence of indoctrination in our public education system,” Liebich wrote. “As a State Board, we have confidence in our local school boards and communities to address any issues should they arise.”

There was a brief interruption during Thursday’s meeting when McGeachin asked a group of young people who were sitting in the audience to move after they displayed T-shirts with handwritten messages, including “Hands off our schools.” The young people did not move away, and McGeachin allowed the meeting to resume

The task force is scheduled to hold a third meeting on Aug. 26 at the Statehouse. The meetings are open to the public and live streamed via the Legislature’s website and Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session service.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.