Inclusion complaints flare as school board meeting is cut short, police respond

A Kuna School Board meeting abruptly ended Tuesday night after public testifiers railed against a potential mask mandate and demanded the word “inclusive” be struck from a proposed strategic plan, and an unknown individual interrupted the meeting through the district’s live stream.

Attendees’ vocal protests, in and outside time for public testimony, were perhaps most raucous when a man standing in the corner of the meeting room repeatedly interrupted board members as they discussed attendees’ calls to replace the word “inclusive” with the word “unity” in the pending strategic plan. The encounter can be seen in a video of the meeting provided by the school district.

“Change the word. Change the word,” he said over trustee Russ Johnson.

Addressing the board, the man said: “I’m gonna take all your guys’ names down, and I’mma call them every single Tuesday to find out what’s going on with that. Every single Tuesday I’m gonna hound you guys.”

A district administrator called police amid the disruptions, but the interjecting man — who identified himself as a district parent in the recording — was gone by the time officers were on the scene, and no arrests were made, Ada County Sherriff’s Office spokesperson Patrick Orr wrote by email Thursday.

Police were called “as a precaution… to provide support if necessary,” Kuna School District spokesperson Allison Westfall wrote by email Wednesday. Orr said police found no evidence of criminal behavior.

The meeting’s early adjournment didn’t stem from the parent who drew a police response, Westfall said, but from a virtual attendee who, outside the public comment period, took issue with the board’s decision to table discussion on the protest-invoking strategic plan.

“Basically, they want to get out of here and leave,” said the virtual attendee, identified as Nicholas Fandell by his Google Meet profile.

Staff turned off the virtual feed just after, which forced the meeting to end in line with a board transparency policy that was adopted when the pandemic pushed meetings online, Westfall said. The board planned to update the policy Tuesday, per its agenda, but didn’t have the chance before adjourning early. One trustee, attending virtually, would have been cut out of the meeting if it continued offline.

The commotion also stopped the board from taking up an operational plan for the upcoming school year, which included details on when masks would be “optional,” “recommended” or “required” districtwide, based on rates of community coronavirus spread.

The political lightning rod that shut down Kuna’s meeting was a statewide debate around critical race theory. Parents decried a paragraph of the district’s proposed strategic plan, which used the word “inclusive.”

“Our schools will be safe and inclusive,” the proposal said. “Each school will foster a culture that supports our students’ diversity and sense of belonging in a safe and secure environment.”

One of three testifiers, who said she spoke on behalf of herself and unnamed members of a Facebook group she started, said the word “inclusive” has become a “catchall” term that is “associated with (critical race theory) and other social justice organizations and movements.”

Discussion of critical race theory is markedly new at the Kuna School Board. Before it became a target of some Republican lawmakers and an “indoctrination” task force founded by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, the topic was generally absent from public testimony and school board talks. Critical race theory is generally considered an academic lens for interpreting racism’s influence on U.S. history and institutions.

Presenters at McGeachin’s task force have repeatedly grouped — their critics say conflated — terms like “diversity and inclusion” or “social and emotional learning” in with their concerns of alleged leftist teachings and “indoctrination” in Idaho schools.

Tuesday’s meeting, better attended than most in the district, included a group of parents who applauded as one testifier decried “segregation” imposed by mask requirements, and another melded concerns about mask requirements and vaccines with concerns about critical race theory and inclusivity.

The board has scheduled a special meeting on Friday afternoon, but only to talk about bus routes.

The strategic plan that roused parent complaints, meanwhile, has been sent back to the committee that drafted it to consider axing its use of the word “inclusive,” as board members requested.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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