Task force members vow to root out, protect students from indoctrination in Idaho schools

The task force, which met at the Statehouse for the first time, will meet three more times

By: - May 27, 2021 11:00 am

Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 20, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Members of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s Education Task Force vowed at its first meeting Thursday to root out and protect Idaho students from what conservative legislators claimed was social justice programming and indoctrination in Idaho classrooms.

Task force members didn’t take any action at the meeting, held at the Idaho Statehouse. Instead, they attempted to agree on a definition of critical race theory. 

McGeachin created the task force in the wake of the Legislature’s debate over critical race theory that resulted in education budgets being held up and legislators cutting a combined $2.5 million from Boise State University, University of Idaho and Idaho State University after conservative lawmakers said the universities were indoctrinating students.

“We know that some of these things are happening in the university system,” McGeachin told the Idaho Capital Sun in an interview after the meeting. “As far as what may or may not be happening in our public schools, that’s all at this point anecdotal.” 

When asked for examples of what is happening, McGeachin pointed to legislators’ concerns about Boise State. Beginning in 2019, legislators pushed back against diversity and inclusivity programs, including Black and LQBTQ graduation ceremonies and Boise State seeking to hire a Native American liaison. McGeachin also said she heard complaints of a University of Idaho law school panel requiring the reading of a book called “How to be an Antiracist.”

McGeachin said she is also concerned about rules coming from the Biden administration. She said it is important to review school curriculum “and look at what our statutes say that we should be teaching.”

Scott Yenor, a professor of political science at Boise State, who sits on the task force and has been active with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, offered a definition of critical race theory. 

“It is the embodiment of the reigning civil rights ideology that holds that all disparities between groups are traceable to discrimination, and if we end discrimiantion, those disparity would disapper,” he said. “

The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s education policy director Anna Miller, a registered lobbyist, also sits on the task force. 

No public testimony was accepted Thursday, and no people of color were included in the roster of presenters who addressed the task force.

During the five-hour hearing, no one gave any specific examples of indoctrination or critical race theory teachings at Idaho K-12 schools. 

One of the presenters claimed without citing specific instances that in states located west of Idaho, educators were bringing in strippers to read to school children. The speaker was James Lindsay, a Tennessee mathematician and the co-author of a book called “Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender and Identity — And Why This Harms Everybody.”

During the meeting, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, gave the task force members all a copy of that book and “How to be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi. McGeachin praised Giddings for providing the task force “with two different views of this.”

This week, Boise State announced that an outside investigation of a university diversity class found no evidence of wrongdoing and no signs of student indoctrination. Investigators from the Boise law firm Hawley Troxell conducted the report over complaints that students had been harassed because of their personal beliefs and values.

“No students who participated in the investigation reported that they were ever forced to apologize for the color of their skin,” the report concluded. “Nor did any student report being personally singled out for their skin color or being subjected to taunts, name-calling, or other degrading behavior from an instructor or other students based on their skin color, beliefs or ideas.”

McGeachin said Thursday afternoon that she had not yet really read the investigation and didn’t have a reaction to its findings. 

McGeachin and Giddings presided over the meeting. Both are running for higher office. McGeachin is running for governor, and Giddings is running for lieutenant governor. 

Idaho Education Association and Idaho 97 Project say the task force stacked the deck

Leaders of the Idaho Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, said they reached out to McGeachin’s office and asked to have a representative on the task force, but were not included.

“The deck is clearly stacked on this task force, which has no intention of conducting an impartial, objective investigation,” IEA President Layne McInelly said in a written statement. “It is set up to serve the purpose of campaigning and fundraising for McGeachin and Giddings — with taxpayers footing the bill. It was convened over a false premise and is part of an ongoing effort by extremists to undermine public education.”

McGeachin’s chief of staff Jordan Watters said the task force is all volunteer. The members will not be reimbursed for their time, travel or other expenses. 

Giddings told committee members Thursday she attempted to secure funding to reimburse their travel expenses “but that request was shot down.”

The meeting took place in the Lincoln Auditorium, the largest hearing room in the Statehouse. 

The Idaho 97 Project, an LLC created to push back against extremism, called the task force an example of neo-McCarthyism.

“The task force is made up of people who already agree and have already made up their minds that racism is not a problem, for them,” Idaho 97 Director Mike Satz said in a written statement. “The problem is that from the lieutenant governor down, the members of this committee are highly ideological, far-right actors in Idaho who want to control and destroy public education as we know it, to silence teachers and students, and especially people of color across Idaho.”

There were two minor disruptions during the meeting. Twice young people in the audience held signs that were critical of the task force or its members. The people holding signs left the room after Giddings asked them to get rid of the signs. One sign said “EduKKKation Task Force,” and another sign featured a 2019 photo of McGeachin posing inside the Statehouse with members of The Three Percenters militia group.  

The task force is scheduled to meet three additional times. Those meetings are set for June 24, July 29 and Aug. 26 at the Statehouse. 

The meetings are open to the public and will be live streamed.

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.

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