What Boise board candidates are saying about book bans and the CRT

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The 13 Boise School Board nominees seem to generally agree on one thing: They’re not having books unilaterally taken from school libraries.

All five incumbents — and several challengers — say they support Boise’s protocols for reviewing books and learning materials. The policy urges parents to bring their concerns directly to teachers. The policy also allows principals to form committees to review documents at the school level, making local decisions that can be appealed to administrators.

In May, Nampa administrators unilaterally — and permanently — banned 22 books from library shelves, a sudden move that sparked a local backlash and garnered national attention. Nampa administrators have since said the district needs a more structured process for reviewing library materials.

In Nampa, the process veered off course when administrators invented a policy along the way, outgoing Boise administrator Dave Wagers said during a virtual candidates’ forum last week. “Director elections are important because directors have the power to do so.”

Wagers is among four candidates seeking two six-year terms in Boise’s No. 1 race. Five of Boise’s seven director seats will be on the ballot on Sept. 6.

Several challengers have criticized the operation of the Boise District – saying administrators are moving too quickly without listening to parents. But the challengers also say they will work within Boise’s policy for reviewing library materials.

Here’s a sampling of what candidates had to say on the matter last week:

  • “Ban books? Not a good place to go. Parents have to be first here,” said Todd Kurowski, a challenger for a two-year seat in Race No. 3.
  • Another Race #3 challenger, Nate Dean, said Nampa’s ban could have violated students‘ constitutional rights — rights that don’t end when children enter a school.
  • Matthew Shapiro, a challenger for a four-year No. 2 race, said district librarians are professionals who understand their responsibilities. And he said it’s ‘naive’ to think students don’t have access to questionable material through friends or social media.
  • Neil “Gnome” Mercer, another Race #2 challenger, said he opposes bans – but also said there are limits. “I’m not going to want to see Playboy in the elementary school library.”
  • Krista Hasler, a Race #1 challenger, said she supports the materials review process. But the registered clinical social worker said she would want to make sure the material is ’emotionally appropriate’ and said she would draw the line at pornography.
  • Steve Schmidt, an incumbent seeking a two-year term in the No. 4 race, said the constant review process was healthy. “I don’t see myself getting any books banned, but I would appreciate a critique of the material.”

A sample of CRT comments

During last week’s forums, Race No. 1 holder Beth Oppenheimer and challenger Greg Woodard clashed over critical race theory — and its presence in Boise schools.

Oppenheimer said the community needs to focus on what is actually taught in schools — not a hot term that many people can’t even define. “That’s nonsense,” she said. “I think that’s just rhetoric.”

Woodard said he heard about worried parents and berated Oppenheimer. “Beth, just dismissing it out of hand, I think that’s a real problem.”

A year after Boise was thrust into Idaho’s version of the CRT debate last summer, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Priscilla Giddings filed a wide-ranging public records request for related learning materials in fairness, Holders say the problem is overblown.

Race holder No. 3 Elizabeth Langley and race holder No. 2 Andy Hawes pointed to the district’s policy, which allows parents to remove their children from district lesson plans and request learning materials alternative. Both said concerns about indoctrination are unfounded. “But if there are concerns, there are policies in place,” Hawes said.

While Woodard and fellow Race #1 challenger Hasler said the district needed to take the CRT’s concerns seriously, other challengers also said the issue was overblown:

  • The No. 3 race challenger said Dawn King said parents had every right to see their children’s school materials, but described the CRT debate as “politically motivated”.
  • “As a teacher, I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that this is a widespread concern, or that there’s anything real out there,” Dean said. However, the CRT narrative is contributing to the teacher exodus, he said, and Boise’s lack of transparency hasn’t helped.
  • Mercer said he had no concerns about CRT and indoctrination in Boise schools, and said the national controversy could have a positive effect. “I think the involvement of parents…is a good thing.”
  • Shiva Rajbhandari, a high school student from Boise, blamed the indoctrination response on a vocal minority of parents and a nationwide effort to undermine public education. And he said Boise officials need to respond more forcefully to these “baseless attacks.” “I think it’s really important to stand up to bullies.”

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About Kevin Richert

A senior journalist and blogger, Kevin Richert specializes in education policy and education policy. He has over 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television; and “Idaho Matters” on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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