Archives for category: Idaho

This is a thrilling story, reported by The Intercept.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari, who turned 18 days before the election, was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues. But in the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, wasendorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

In an interview, Rajbhandari told The Intercept that although he had hoped people would vote for him rather than against his opponent — “My campaign was not against Steve Schmidt,” he said — he was nonetheless shocked that Schmidt did not immediately reject the far-right group’s endorsement. “I think that’s what the majority of voters took issue with,” Rajbhandari said.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area.

But, Rajbhandari said, “that’s the least of what they’ve done. Last year, there was a kid who brought a gun to Boise High, which is my school, and he got suspended and they organized an armed protest outside our school.”

Rajbhandari, who started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was 15, is familiar with the group’s tactics. “We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

So when the Idaho Liberty Dogs called on Boise voters to support Schmidt — and a slate of other candidates for the school board who, ultimately, all lost — Rajbhandari told me he texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

While the school board election was a hyperlocal one, Rajbhandari is aware that the forces he is battling operate at the state and national level. “Idaho is at the center of this out-of-state-funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools, with the end goal of actually abolishing public education,” Rajbhandari told me. “There’s a group, they’re called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and they actually control a lot of the political discourse in our legislature. Their primary goal is to get rid of public education and disburse the money to charter schools or get rid of that funding entirely.”

For his courage and candor, he won the endorsement of The Idaho Statesman.

This is a remarkable young man with a bright future ahead of him. I am happy to add him to the honor roll of this blog.

Read the rest of the story by opening the link. Rajbhandari is a force to be reckoned with. He is a good omen of the bright, dedicated young people who stand up for their teachers and for environmental activism, who fight for gun control and against censorship. Best wishes to him!

Idaho should hold a referendum and let its people speak on the subject of abortion. The state has one of the strictest bans in the nation.

The Idaho Supreme Court said late Friday that the state’s strict antiabortion laws can take effect while it reviews legal challenges against the restrictions. The near-total ban on abortions is scheduled to kick in Aug. 25.


The court also lifted a stay on a separate law that allows potential relatives of a fetus to sue a provider who carries out an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. That law becomes effective immediately.


The decision was made in response to lawsuits from a Planned Parenthood chapter and a local doctor challenging laws such as Idaho’s near-total abortion trigger ban, which was designed to become enforceable shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The petitioners had asked the judiciary to suspend enforcement of the abortion restrictions until it reached a final decision.


But Idaho’s highest court denied the requests in a split decision, saying that the petitioners had failed to show that they were likely to prevail in overturning the state’s antiabortion laws.


Idaho’s abortion restrictions have exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the pregnant person is at risk. Abortion rights supporters had previously argued in court that the medical exceptions were written so vaguely that they were impossible to follow, the Associated Press reported.
The court also noted that the petitioners had raised “serious issues” about the “lack of clarity” regarding Idaho’s medical exceptions, particularly relating to treatment for conditions such as ectopic pregnancies — when a fetus grows outside the uterus, making the pregnancy unviable — and preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication associated with dangerously high blood pressure…

The Idaho Republican Party, which calls abortion “murder from the moment of fertilization” on its platform, didn’t immediately issue a statement in response to the ruling. Its Twitter account retweeted and liked a local reporter’s update on the court’s decision.

This is a strange yet unsurprising story. A truck filled with 31 individuals was stopped in Idaho. The 31 were on their way to disrupt a gay pride parade in Idaho. The men arrested came from different states. I saw the article in the Houston Chronicle but it was widely reported. When I read it before, I decided not to post it. But then I realized it has a larger significance, as it signifies the normalization of extremism, that is, extremists who wear uniforms and show their faces instead of lurking in the shadows and muttering to themselves.

Why was this group converging on gays in Idaho, not in a city in their own states? I’m guessing that they expected little resistance in a deeply conservative state. If they had rioted in a big city like Houston, Chicago, Miami, or Los Angeles, the crowd would have far outnumbered them and resisted. That’s my guess. What is truly alarming, aside from the fact that this riot was planned and might have turned violent, is that extremist groups like this are showing their faces. The emergence of QAnon, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other extremists as allies of one of the nation’s two dominant political parties has encouraged open violence against marginalized groups. Will we soon see open KKK marches—oh, wait, we saw that in Charlottesville in 2017, with the torches but not the hoods. Trumpism—aka, white supremacy—used to be hidden under a rock. No more. Thank God they were arrested. In Idaho.

Authorities arrest members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front near an Idaho pride event Saturday, June 11, 2022, after they were found packed into the back of a U-Haul truck with riot gear. 
Authorities arrest members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front near an Idaho pride event Saturday, June 11, 2022, after they were found packed into the back of a U-Haul truck with riot gear. Georji Brown/Associated Press

Texas residents were among 31 individuals affiliated with a white nationalist group arrested Saturday in Idaho on suspicion of conspiracy to riot after police there found them packed in a U-Haul truck apparently heading to a Pride celebration with riot gear and at least one smoke grenade, authorities said.

It was not clear by Saturday night how many of the individuals detained in Coeur d’Alene, a city in north Idaho about 33 miles east of Spokane, were from Texas or what part of the state they reside in. The others arrested, who were still being booked Saturday, were residents of Utah, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Arkansas, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Virginia, the city’s police Chief Lee White said.

A person called authorities around 1:38 p.m. after seeing some 20 people jump into a truck wearing masks and carrying shields, looking “like a little Army.” Police stopped the truck about 10 minutes later and arrested the 31 individuals, who appear to be affiliated with the group Patriot Front, White said, citing logos on their hats, similar outfits, insignia and at least one patch that said Patriot Front.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the group as a white nationalist hate group.

Two prominent Idaho citizens, Jim Jones and Rod Gramer, warned that proposed voucher legislation violates the clear language of the Idaho state constitution and threatens the future of public schools.

Jim Jones is the former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and former Idaho Attorney General and Rod Gramer is president of Idaho Business for Education.

They wrote:


Supporters of privatizing education are about to change the Idaho Constitution and 130 years of education policy without going to a vote of the people. Instead, those who want taxpayers to fund private schools should take their case to the people and let them decide as the Constitution requires.

Idaho’s founders were clear when they adopted the Constitution that the Legislature should support public schools. In Article IX, Section 1 they wrote: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The Founders did not say the Legislature should fund private schools. They did not say the Legislature should fund religious schools. In fact, in two other sections of Article IX they specifically said no taxpayer monies should go to fund religious schools.

Yet on page two, line (b), House Bill 294 says that state funds can be used for “tuition or fees at private schools.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that if a state spends funds on private schools it must also provide funding to religious schools, thus allowing House Bill 294 to undermine both the letter and spirit of the Idaho Constitution.

This attempt to undermine the Constitution is piggybacked on the popular Strong Families, Strong Students program Governor Little created last year to provide computers, internet service and tutoring to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If that’s all the bill did, we would support it. But the bill’s sponsors slipped in the private school tuition provision and made it sound like the bill was a harmless continuation of the Governor’s program. Several lawmakers and veteran reporters missed the bill’s real impact.

Supporters of House Bill 294 have some powerful allies like the Idaho Freedom Foundation which advocates for the abolishment of public schools. Another backer is “Yes. Every Kid” which is funded by the Koch Network, created by the billionaire Koch brothers. It is buying time on Idaho TV stations proclaiming how the bill benefits families. Of course, they don’t mention that it threatens the future of our public schools and violates the Idaho Constitution.

Instead of listening to out-of-state billionaires, legislators should listen to our founders and generations of lawmakers who clearly believed that the state’s responsibility is to fund public schools, not private or religious schools.

There is another reason lawmakers should listen to our founders. Idaho ranks last in the nation in spending per student and is already out of compliance with the Constitution’s mandate to fund a uniform and thorough public school system.

This shortage of state funding has caused local communities to raise their own property taxes by millions of dollars to ensure that their schools can operate. If the state cannot fund our public schools adequately, it makes no sense to divert badly needed state funds to support a private education system too.

Ultimately, the people of Idaho should decide whether to change the Constitution and fund private schools. That’s what our state’s founders intended, that’s what the Constitution says, and that’s what we should do. Not have the Legislature make an end run around the Constitution – or the people of Idaho.

There was widespread publicity when First Daughter Ivanka Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the Wilder Elementary School in Idaho. Some of the local media were less than enthusiastic, mentioning high school student protests and low test scores. Some even pointed out that the district bought the iPads with funding from a program created during the Obama administration.

A teacher wrote to the blog to explain the back story. I won’t use her name, but you can find it on her comment that appears on the blog.

Just like every story on the internet, there is a different side to this. The iPads aren’t the enemy here. The real issue is a small district with no checks or balances allowing one person to be in power. If you want an inside look at what this district is going through, please continue reading otherwise please understand the iPads started out and were intended to offer amazing opportunities for the students. I’m not here to sell iPads but what they did for this community was very positive until one man with all the power decided to jump on a band wagon without doing his due diligence and researching the affects.

These iPads were granted to the district through the ConnectEd grant. The way the grant was written the iPads were going to help the students connect with the local community doing real life projects and helping in the community. They came with a complete overhaul of the infastructure, and the ability for students to be connected to the internet at home, while traveling for sports or their long FFA trips. Teachers were trained through a certified teacher trained on Apple product to teach the teachers how to take their lessons and add a new level of thought and creativity using technology.

Then the superintendent who has complete power in the district wanted to run for state superintendent and the Idaho State Department of Education began a personalized learning initiative. He thought if he could be the best in the state and get this started first and be ahead of the game then that would be really all he would need to get the win and become state superintendent. He expected the teachers to completely drop what they were doing and begin teaching this way over night. Teachers were being asked to completely compromise their curriculum and drop standards to make it easier for students to just focus on the “big rocks”. Students were getting Spanish credits in the high school for using DuoLingos app. At the end the students still couldn’t speak or write simple Spanish. If teachers questioned the methods they would receive poor evaluations, have to change classrooms for no reason or be asked to complete tasks that weren’t necessary or that no other teacher was asked to do.

Student and parent frustrations are through the roof. Parents and teachers were being denied the ability to talk to the board. In the high school wing all but two teachers left last year along with the IT guy, the secretary, the migrant/homeless liasion, the ELL teacher, and some sped staff all left. This is a very small district that graduates between 25-30 kids each year. That is a lot of staff turnover. The stress in the building is unhealthy because one man has all the control and he can’t/won’t change now or all that he has been hyping up will look like he is lying. A huge majority of the staff couldn’t stand seeing students having to use the iPads this way. But suggestions, ideas or possible improvements are deemed as insubordination.

I believe it is the superintendent’s connections through the Apple grant that brought Trump and Cook out there. Cook needs Trump to be onboard to continue the “ConnectEd” type initiatives and to stop the tariffs on the company and the local superintendent needs the media to confirm how good he is to the Idaho public as a “I told you we were good but you (public) didn’t listen” . He lost the election by a very large margin.

Not only was I a teacher that left, I was one of the tree people that wrote the middle-high school Apple grant. This isn’t how any of us intended for the iPads to be used, ever. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of the students that spoke up. I miss them terribly and felt like I am weak because I’m not mentally strong enough to stay and fight for them and protect their education. Suggestions on ways to fight are greatly appreciated!! These are absolutely amazing students they deserve much better.

Ivanka Trump and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, visited Wilder Elementary School to learn about the future of workforce preparation, which of course involves selling iPads to children in a K-6 school!

However, they did not speak to high school students in Wilder, Idaho, who are thoroughly disgusted with (de)personalized learning. Several protested the fraud that Wilder officials were selling to Ivanka and said they were not allowed to speak up.

So instead, they walked outside, stood in the cold for hours and told members of the local media they are concerned about Wilder’s reliance on technology, worry about the district’s low test scores and fear the education they are receiving in Wilder won’t prepare them for college or life after high school.

Nadia, a Wilder sophomore, wanted to make sure the public heard both sides of the iPad story.

“We came out to tell you guys what’s really going on with our school,” Nadia said. “We are not really learning anything. The teachers are not allowed to teach anything. We are learning on iPads all day and we have to wait at least a week or so to get a test unlocked. And a lot of kids have been falling behind and then they cover that up and say everyone’s on target.”

Thomas, a Wilder 11thgrader, agreed with Nadia.

“There are a lot of things going wrong at this school and every time we try to speak out about it we are shut down and kept quiet,” he said.

Thomas and Nadia said they walked out of class once they realized the school was about to be locked down for the visit. They said they were unsure if they would be allowed to return to school.

Student achievement data shows that Wilder lags behind the state average in several academic indicators. This fall, the State Department of Education identified Wilder Middle School as one of the lowest-performing schools in Idaho. At Wilder Elementary, where Trump and Cook checked in Tuesday, just 26.7 percent of students scored “proficient” on math Idaho Standards Achievement Test in 2017-18. At Wilder High School, the go-on rate in 2017 was 25 percent, well below the state average of 45 percent, according to Idaho EdTrends.

In Idaho, a school went into lockdown, and some parents rushed to the school with their weapons to protect the children. Some brought their AR-15 assault weapons. The police stopped them and asked them not to intervene. The police were rightly fearful that there could be a shootout and a parent might be killed on suspicion that he or she was the shooter. Too many guns at the scene means bullets flying and the possibility of more victims, possibly students, teachers, police, or in this case, parents.

In New York City, where I live, the police don’t like to see civilians with guns. It is illegal and it gets in the way of law enforcement.

 

Levi Cavener, a teacher in Idaho, describes a money laundering scheme meant to undermine and subvert the plain language of the State Constitution.

The goal, as usual, is vouchers for religious schools, which the State Constitution explicitly prohibits.

Demand a referendum. Find out if the people of Idaho want to amend the Constitution.

No, the privatizers won’t risk that. They fear democracy. They know only a tiny minority want religious school vouchers.

Demand a statewide vote.

Vouchers benefit no one while undercutting the public schools which enroll 90% of children.

Use democracy to protect democracy.

Levi B. Cavener teaches in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at Idahospromise.org.

Coming soon to a town near you Idaho: Charter school cronyism

In the wake of financial scandals in the Gem State’s education world including the multimillion dollar broadband fiasco, citizens have a right to be leery about cozy relationships between government entities and their business partners.

Take, for example, the recent charter school petition Caldwell School District received from Pathways in Education (PIE). From a public records request, that petition stated that PIE would pay California based Pathways Management Group (PMG), operated by charter entrepreneur Mr. John Hall, to the tune of $127 per student per month for “charter management.”

With a desired enrollment of 300 students and a flexible year-round schedule, that creates a significant contract of $450k for PMG per year. It is unclear what services would be provided for this fee as many of the services listed such as paying utility bills and purchasing electronics appear to be redundant activities the Caldwell district office already performs.

The PIE charter petition also states that the California nonprofit Education In Motion (EIM) will have exclusive ability to appoint PIE’s board of trustees. Pay no attention to the fact that the California Secretary of State also lists Mr. Hall as agent of that nonprofit at precisely the same California address shared with PMG, which he presides over.

In other words: an out-of-state group (with Mr. Hall listed as agent) has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees to the charter — not the local community. Hand-picked trustees then contract with Mr. Hall’s vendor to manage the charter, in perpetuity. Now, that’s a good business model!

Idaho’s laws regarding charters was written to prevent this apparent type of conflict of interest. It states that “No more than one-third (1/3) of the public charter school’s board membership may be comprised of nonprofit educational services provider representatives.”

In this case, an entity under agency of Mr. Hall has the exclusive ability to appoint trustees which subsequently contract his management services. Some would say that means Mr. Hall controls more than the ⅓ share allowed, and in fact, has de facto control of the entire board.

All of which leads full circle back to the loss of local control because an out-of-state entity is not only in charge of an Idaho school, but is also the recipient of a lucrative business relationship with the school. Isn’t that cronyism? You know, favoring close friends, or, yourself?

But wait, it gets better: PIE withdrew its application from Caldwell School District before trustees voted on the charter proposal, and then resubmitted it to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC). That end-around step means that no elected officials will have an opportunity now to vote on opening PIE in Caldwell going forward.

That result is because the IPCSC members who will vote on granting PIE’s charter are appointed by a governor whose tenure has been littered with these types of conflict-of-interest episodes.

And the appointed commission may very well vote to grant a California nonprofit, with Mr. Hall listed as agent, the ability to appoint trustees in Caldwell, Idaho. Which will then engage in a substantial financial contract with an entity also helmed by Mr. Hall. Because that makes sense.

But these are the sorts of things that occur when the public loses control of making fundamental decisions about its local schools when that control is exported to charter schools along with their out-of-state management groups.

And for all the rhetoric about the “freedom” to have “choice” in our public schools, PIE suggests that we have given away every modicum of the freedom to run the schools in our community to a California nonprofit and business partners. Only in Idaho…

High school students in the West Ada school district made a 3-minute video to respond to the Albertson Foundation’s attack on public education. (Read here about the Albertson Foundation’s attacks and its plan to open enough charter schools to enroll 20,000 students.)

The Albertson Foundation is leading a mean-spirited attack on public education in Idaho. They have underwritten television ads saying that the public schools are no good and 80% of the graduates are not prepared for college or careers. Attacks like this are always the prelude to demands for privatization and for replacing public schools with charter schools, vouchers, and virtual charters.

The students got tired of hearing these stale and erroneous complaints from a handful of billionaires who don’t like public education, so they made their own video. Of course, they can’t afford to put it on television, but they can put it on social media.

Let’s hear it for the kids! They are alright in Idaho!