COVID protocols, indoctrination claims hover over East Idaho trustee elections

COVID-19 protocols and purported indoctrination in public schools have become focal points in several East Idaho trustee elections.

From Pocatello to Sugar City, candidates are weighing in ahead of the Nov. 2 election on masks in schools and claims of critical race theory being taught in classrooms.

The debates reflect a scaled-down versions of races statewide, where inflated focus on masks and indoctrination have accompanied an upsurge in the number of candidates running — and marked typically quiet school board meetings with protests, police responses and recall efforts.

“CRT seeks to destroy history and rewrite it to delude the true facts that are out there,” Clayton Armstrong, a candidate running for Pocatello-Chubbuck School District Zone 2 seat, recently wrote in response to a survey put out by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Armstrong also voiced his opposition to mask mandates, a heated topic in the district in recent weeks.

Patrons oppose the prospect of a mask mandate during a board meeting in the Pocatello-Chubbuck district.

For months, the foundation has pointed to purported issues of indoctrination in Idaho’s schools. The group says it recently sent surveys featuring questions about school safety protocols, critical race theory and other issues to every trustee candidate in the state. As of Tuesday morning, 33 had responded, according to the foundation’s website. At least four of those are running in East Idaho.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s indoctrination task force has stoked further concerns about critical race theory in the classroom ahead of the election — and emerged as a wedge issue for other East Idaho candidates.

Blackfoot trustee Sonya Harris, who has made indoctrination a focal point of both her reelection campaign and her time on the board, was a member of McGeachin’s task force, a point she recently touted in a flyer circulated in the community and on social media to mixed reaction from locals.

“If I was her, I wouldn’t be bragging about being a member of the (task force),” wrote local Shantel Capson in response to the flyer’s posting on a community Facebook page.

“I appreciate everyone saying why they dislike this gal because it makes me want to vote for her,” Heather Hoops wrote in the same thread.

Harris doesn’t support masks in schools, but says she does support temporarily closing classrooms and schools if “case numbers become too high.”

Former Blackfoot teacher Cleon Chapman is challenging Harris and made a range of other issues the focus of his campaign, from his push for a new career-technical high school in Blackfoot to his time in the classroom.

At least two other East Idaho candidates voiced opposition to both masks and purported indoctrination in schools.

Critical race theory’s overemphasis on slavery and discrimination excludes positive American history, wrote Elaine King, who’s challenging Kristin Galbraith for the Sugar-Salem district’s Zone 4 seat.

“Why would we as Americans preach anti-American ideologies?” asked Deanna Judy, who’s challenging Pocatello-Chubbuck trustee Dave Mattson for the district’s Zone 5 seat.

Click here for a closer look at races across East Idaho’s 13 counties, including names of 36 candidates running in 11 districts. (Names in bold represent incumbents.)

How to vote

Constituents can vote early, absentee or in-person on Election Day, Nov. 2. Here are some key dates and times to keep in mind:

  • Early voting begins Oct. 18 in counties that offer it.
  • Absentee voters must apply for a ballot by Oct. 22.
  • Early voting ends Oct. 29.
  • Absentee ballots must be returned by the time polls close Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.
  • Polls open at 8 a.m. statewide Nov. 2.

Most districts elect trustees based on the geographic zone they live in. Constituents from their zone or region can cast votes to elect them.

Trustees serve four-year terms. Elections alternate between three- and two-seat elections on odd-numbered years.

EdNews compiled a list of all contested school board elections in the state. Click here for more on statewide races.

Idaho EdNews reporter Blake Jones contributed to this story. 

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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