As indoctrination task force talks K-12 education, Idaho State Board issues statement

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Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s task force looking into indoctrination in Idaho schools met for the second time Thursday, with a focus on K-12 education.

Parents who showed support for the task force gave presentations, while the members did not hear from Idahoans opposed to the panel’s work or to the notion that indoctrination is taking place in classrooms. There also was no public testimony, but McGeachin said that won’t always be the case.

At the start, Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings, the panel’s co-chair, presented a series of documents, which were also published online, that included lessons she said were from K-12 schools in the state, with references to ideas of equity and social justice.

The first document in the examples Giddings presented was a job posting from the Boise School District looking for a “building equity lead.” That position, according to the document, would “promote a culture of equity and inclusion for all students, families, employees and community.”

Also included in the series of documents was an article related to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nikole Hannah Jones’ 1619 Project and implicit bias assessments. The 1619 Project was launched in August 2019 and commemorated the 400th anniversary of slaves arriving from Africa in Virginia.

Giddings also took issue with materials she said she was provided from Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a “college readiness system … that uses research-based strategies and curriculum to help close the achievement gap,” according to the Boise district’s website.

Last month, Giddings submitted a public records request to the Boise School District for materials related to the English Learners and AVID programs, along with any materials, books, curriculum or assignments using the 1619 Project or the 1776 project.

Parents who spoke raised concerns with what they said their children were being taught in school. Several students attended the four-hour meeting wearing T-shirts, most with the phrase, “Hands off our schools.”

At one point, an audience member pointed out that the students were moving to be in view of the camera that was live-streaming the meeting. McGeachin asked for students to move out of the camera’s view, but they stayed put, and the meeting soon continued.

Students told the Idaho Statesman recently that they wanted the task force to listen to their experiences in school and that they were scared about the impact the group could have on their education. They said in interviews that they want to learn more in school, not less, and sometimes feel that they’re skimming over parts of history.

The second meeting, like the first, did not include any time for the public to speak. At the beginning of the meeting, McGeachin, who is running for governor, said there would be no such testimony because there was no proposal before the committee.

“When we do get to that point, where if and when we make any proposals, recommendations … our whole purpose is to be open, honest and transparent with the people of Idaho, and there will be public testimony,” she said.

State Board of Education President Kurt Liebich released a statement during the meeting saying the board has not seen “any evidence of indoctrination” in Idaho schools. In the statement, he explained why he decided to provide a written response to questions asked by the task force instead of appearing in person. He said he and Executive Director Matt Freeman had a call with McGeachin and Giddings earlier this month and were asked to make a presentation.

At the time, he expressed concern “about statements made by some task force members during the first meeting and its overall tone.”

“The State Board is focused on helping our schools and students rebound from the global pandemic. Literacy, unfinished learning, student achievement and student mental health are key areas the board is actively working to address,” the statement read.

“We will continue to follow the work of the task force. To date, I have not seen any evidence of indoctrination in our public education system. As a State Board, we have confidence in our local school boards and communities to address any issues should they arise.”

The task force’s next meeting, to be held in late July, will focus on higher education.

Here’s what else was listed in the documents presented Thursday:

  • An article from The New York Times titled “Why We Published the 1619 Project.”

  • A worksheet on implicit bias tests.

  • The Idaho Standards for Initial Certification of Professional School Personnel, which included lines referencing social justice, such as: “The teacher designs and/or implements English language arts and literacy instruction that promotes social justice and critical engagement with complex issues related to maintaining a diverse, inclusive, equitable society.”

  • An image depicting equality vs. equity.

  • Documents from a company called EL Education. That company’s material, as reported by Idaho Ed News, is used in only four districts in the state. Boise is not one of them.

  • AVID materials Giddings said were provided “through other sources” with the title “In Solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” The Boise School District said in its response to the public records request that “AVID education materials are trade secrets.”

Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho Statesman in partnership with Report for America. The position is partly funded through community support. Click here to donate.

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