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A look inside Idaho’s unredacted McGeachin task force files

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

Most comments push back against the “indoctrination” task force, which met at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise

The overwhelming majority of the 3,602 comments Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin received regarding her education task force were critical of the task force or pushed back against McGeachin’s allegations of indoctrination in schools.

More than 2,500 of the comments either criticized the task force, opposed McGeachin personally or denied that schools and teachers are indoctrinating students, according to an Idaho Capital Sun analysis of the 3,602 comments McGeachin’s office released last week.

On the other hand, more than 300 of the comments voiced support for the task force’s work, support for McGeachin herself or included suggestions for where her task force could look for examples of critical race theory, Marxism or social justice teachings in Idaho schools or universities.

“Please do NOT teach critical race theory to our children,” one parent wrote to McGeachin. “Critical race theory has roots in Marxism and would overturn the principles of the Declaration of Independence and destroy our Constitution, upon which America was built.”

The remainder of the comments, more than 700 of them, were either unclear, addressed a different topic or were duplicates.

The unredacted comments, which McGeachin released to the Idaho Capital Sun on Thursday night following a legal scrum with the Idaho Press Club, painted a picture of widespread pushback against McGeachin’s claims that educators are indoctrinating Idaho students with critical race theory, social justice, Communist, Marxist, socialist or leftist teachings.

“I am a lifelong member of the Republican Party,” a parent wrote to McGeachin on April 21. “This is an absolute waste of resources — something that seems to be a theme of your office. We are involved with our child’s education and have NEVER seen any kind of ‘indoctrination’ issues. They are teaching ABC’s and numbers and addition. I am tired of you using your office to score political points that have no merit. I look forward to working to get you out of office in the primaries. At this point I would rather vote for a rock than you.”

Other news organizations and groups have previously reported on the records. Idaho Education News received 100 of the 3,602 comments and reported on them July 28.

In August, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that opposes limits on academic freedom and First Amendment rights, obtained the partially redacted records and wrote about the comments.

Hundreds of comments accused McGeachin of using her political power to run a “witch hunt” in the same vein as former U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s accusations of widespread Communist infiltration in the 1950s.

“There is absolutely zero evidence of indoctrination by either leftists or right-wingers in Idaho schools,” a self-described concerned citizen wrote. “Do not waste our tax dollars chasing an illusion. Our teachers, students, and professors deserve better than McCarthyism. Banning speech and books and curriculum on campus is bad — left or right.”

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin released on Sept. 30 unreacted records of the 3,602 comments her education task force received.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin released on Sept. 30 unreacted records of the 3,602 comments her education task force received.

Many Idaho students, teachers and parents responded to McGeachin

“All my conversations with professors about politics have been very fair,” a Boise State University State student wrote. “They rarely let us know their own views. I have heard ‘I’m not telling you one way or the other’ or ‘Let’s be sure to stay respectful of all political views’ so many times. In my view, my experience in Idaho public education has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m not a liberal so I don’t believe in some of their ‘values’ but I certainly don’t think they are trying to take over our public schools. I just don’t see the issue you’re talking about. I have loved my college experience here.”

Teachers at all levels also wrote in.

“The work my coworkers and I do day in, day out is not indoctrination,” an elementary school teacher wrote. “It’s hurtful to me personally to hear my own lieutenant governor use these words. I’d love to invite you to my school and show you how what we do for our kids is ANYTHING but ‘indoctrination.’ We teach HOW to think, not WHAT to think. We always have and we always will.”

Several of the commenters who identified themselves as conservative Republicans offered support for schools and strongly denied observing any indoctrination.

“Now I’m almost as conservative as it gets here and I can’t see what the heck you guys are talking about with this indoctrination,” a self-described concerned citizen wrote. “My kids went to Idaho public schools all the way through college and I’m proud of what they learned. They learned proper discourse. They learned how to learn. That’s important. Indoctrination? No. Reading, grammar, math? Yes.”

Several others made similar comments.

“My kids’ teachers work their (butts) off and spend their own money on school supplies,” one parent wrote. “They barely have time to teach what is on the curriculum, never mind this made up crap you’ve decided to latch onto. I’ve never voted Democrat in my life, but if Janice is the new face of the GOP then God help us all.”

A smaller number of comments favored the task force

Although McGeachin encountered widespread pushback and even hostility, she also received more than 300 supportive comments.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin released 3,602 comments her education task force received this year.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin released 3,602 comments her education task force received this year.

“I agree with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who recently said, ‘There’s no room in our classrooms for things like Critical Race Theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money,’” one grandparent wrote to McGeachin. “I want my grandchildren to love their country and to love one another.”

Several said elected officials should cut funding to colleges or schools.

“Stop indoctrinating our children,” one parent wrote. “No more government funding for colleges.”

Others suggested schools influenced children’s politics but didn’t give an example of how.

“During the election season around October I would here (sic) several students talk about how great Biden was and how terrible Trump was,” a commenter who identified himself as a school bus driver wrote. “No exceptions. It felt like they were being taught this in school.”

Dozens of other comments addressed other education topics outside of the task force’s mission of rooting out critical race theory and indoctrination. For instance, many voiced support for state-funded pre-school or increased funding for teacher pay.

Dozens of comments included profanity.

Many appeared to be satirical, sarcastic or absurd.

One person writing under a pseudonym took the time to leave McGeachin a 232-word comment made up almost entirely of lyrics from the 1999 hit Smash Mouth song “All Star.”

Where did the comments and records come from?

Shortly after unveiling her education task force in April, McGeachin urged Idahoans to visit her website and provide feedback about public education.

McGeachin’s website states that her task force “exists to examine indoctrination in Idaho education and to protect our young people.” It called on people “to leave feedback on these and other matters you have encountered in Idaho’s education system.”

The Idaho Capital Sun filed a public records request April 21 with McGeachin’s office requesting records of the comments left at her website. McGeachin chief of staff Jordan Watters responded May 4 with a general summary of the comments, but said McGeachin’s office would need to redact the names, email addresses and personally identifying information from the written comment. Watters estimated the redactions would cost $560 if the Idaho Capital Sun wanted to obtain the incomplete records.

In June, McGeachin’s office sent the Idaho Capital Sun 238 pages of public records related to the task force, but most of the records were covered by black boxes bearing the word “RECATED.”

The Idaho Capital Sun then reached out to the Idaho Press Club. In July, the Idaho Press Club sued McGeachin seeking release of the records on behalf of the Idaho Capital Sun, Idaho Education News and the Idaho Statesman.

A judge ordered McGeachin to release the records in August. However, McGeachin did not provide the unredacted records to the Idaho Capital Sun until Thursday evening.

On Sept. 29, the Idaho Press Club’s attorney filed a motion asking McGeachin be held in contempt of court and detained until she followed the judge’s order and released the records.

McGeachin thenreleased the 3,602 unredacted comments the next day.

McGeachin is asking taxpayers to cover $50,000 worth of her legal costs, Boise State Public Radio reported.

The Idaho Capital Sun has filed a public record’s request with McGeachin’s office seeking records of her legal expenses and was awaiting a response as of this article’s publication. Idaho Capital Sun editor Christina Lords, senior reporter Audrey Dutton and reporter Kelcie Moseley-Morris contributed to this report. 

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.