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McGeachin’s education task force will accept public comment this week

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin
Otto Kitsinger
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin presides over the Senate at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The final task force meeting is set for Thursday at the Statehouse

For the first time, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s education task force will accept public comment during the group’s final meeting Thursday at the Statehouse.

Created by McGeachin in April, the task force was designed to “examine indoctrination in Idaho and to protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism,” according to McGeachin’s announcement of the task force.

The group has held three meetings, totalling nearly 14 hours, where the task force mostly surrounded itself with conservative speakers and presenters who agreed with the task force’s mission.

Last month, the task force discussed eliminating the State Board of Education, which was created by the Idaho Constitution to provide general supervision of Idaho’s schools and public colleges and universities.

Thursday’s meeting, which will begin at 1 p.m. in the Lincoln Auditorium in Garden Level (or bottom floor) of the Statehouse, “will be primarily dedicated to public comment,” McGeachin posted on her social media channels Friday.

The meeting will be open to the public and streamed for free on the Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session service.

To comment during the meeting, people will need to attend in-person Thursday. McGeachin announced there will be no remote testimony “due to a lack of technical support.”

Anyone wishing to testify may show up to the Lincoln Auditorium beginning at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and sign in. For those unable to attend in person, McGeachin said she will accept written testimony.

The Idaho Capital Sun has requested follow up information from McGeachin’s office about how to submit written testimony. McGeachin’s staff referred an Idaho Capital Sun reporter to McGeachin’s Facebook post when asked for details about public comment.

Since its formation, McGeachin’s task force has operated outside of the rest of the state government and education systems.

Gov. Brad Little and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra have not participated.

The State Board of Education did not testify or present during the meetings, although President Kurt Liebich and executive director Matt Freeman participated in a conference call with McGeachin and Giddings and staff then provided written testimony and met with McGeachin’s intern, who worked with the task force.

Earlier this summer, Liebich released a written statement explaining why he chose to submit written comments instead of appearing before the task force in-person.

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

Instead, Liebich said the State Board of Education was focused on helping schools and students rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

This week the State Board of Education has a conflict. It will be meeting in Pocatello — at a meeting that was scheduled more than one year ag0 — at the same time as McGeachin’s task force meets in Boise.

When asked whether the Idaho Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, would send members to testify at next week’s meeting, a spokesman released a statement saying the association was not encouraging its members — many of whom are starting school or preparing for the first day of class — to testify in-person.

“We have not heard anything about how the supposed public comment period will be structured,” the Idaho Education Association wrote in its statement. “Given the lack of transparency surrounding the ‘indoctrination’ task force and its obviously predetermined outcome, we are not actively encouraging educators to present in-person comments.

“Typically, the IEA encourages our professional educators to participate in open and honest dialogue around many facets of education policy, but we don’t believe they would find that from this task force,” the statement continued. “They have much better uses for their time and efforts than legitimizing political grandstanding; particularly their essential work helping Idaho’s children learn and grow.”

Likewise, the Idaho School Boards Association, a group made up of volunteer school board members from across the state, is not planning to testify Thursday.

“We do not have a planned comment or prepared remarks at this time,” Quinn Perry, policy and government affairs director for the school boards association, wrote in a message Friday to the Idaho Capital Sun.

Leaders of the Idaho 97 Project, an LLC formed to combat extremism, also do not plan to testify or submit written comment.

“We think it’s a farce and we don’t want to legitimize it in any way,” Idaho 97 Project Executive Director Mike Satz told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Aside from public comment, it is likely the task force will vote on recommendations or even discuss potential legislation it would like legislators to consider introducing during the 2022 legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

The task force itself is not considered a governing body and it does not have the power to change laws or policy. However, many legislators have already signaled they are interested in the task force’s recommendations or reports.

Both McGeachin and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, the Republican from White Bird who is serving as McGeachin’s co-chair on the task force, are running for higher office in 2022.

McGeachin, a Republican from Idaho Falls, is running for governor in the GOP primary. Giddings is running for lieutenant governor in the GOP primary, which is scheduled for May.

The winners of the party primaries will advance to the Nov. 8, 2022 general election.

Editor’s Note: The Idaho Capital Sun is a party to the Idaho Press Club’s lawsuit against McGeachin seeking the release of written public comments McGeachin’s office recevied shortly after the task force was created.

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.