Lawmakers spar over Ybarra’s role with deaf and blind

A handful of House Republicans are at odds with Superintendent Sherri Ybarra over a bill that would allow her to appoint a replacement to an educational board for the deaf and blind.

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Sherri Ybarra

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee voted to sidetrack House Bill 97 — with several lawmakers questioning the wording of, and need for, the bill. They voted to hold the bill in committee until March 1, or at the call of Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.

DeMordaunt could bring the bill forward again for reconsideration.

The bill first surfaced Monday, when Ybarra’s special assistant, Tim Corder, pushed for it. The bill would change an existing law that calls for the state superintendent to chair the eight-member board of directors of the Idaho Bureau of Educational Services for the Deaf and Blind.

Corder said Ybarra’s busy schedule would prevent her from attending some meetings – which take place at least once every three months.

“The superintendent is not trying to abdicate her responsibility,” Corder said. “She takes that very seriously, and all children are important to her.”

The bill would allow Ybarra to appoint a replacement who will chair the committee when she could not attend. Under existing law, the board’s vice chairman leads the meetings in the superintendent’s absence.

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Corder said Ybarra would still like the authority to chair the meetings when she could attend. And that’s where the problems started, with questions coming from DeMordaunt and fellow Reps. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry; and Patrick McDonald, R-Boise.

Lawmakers asked Corder why the bill uses the word “appointee” instead of “designee.” They also questioned why Ybarra would be allowed to make the appointment, when Gov. Butch Otter appoints the board’s other seven members.

“I felt uncomfortable making it appointee instead of designee (when) the appointee is chairman of the board for the meeting,” Clow said. “Maybe it is only every six months the appointee shows up.”

Corder said the flexibility would ensure Ybarra offers her perspective, since Special Education Director Charlotte Silva, would attend and chair the meeting in Ybarra’s absence.

Still, lawmakers weren’t convinced. And at one point, Corder offered to show McDonald Ybarra’s schedule, although he did not do so.

“I know she’s busy, everybody’s busy,” McDonald replied. “I don’t see why we are addressing this issue.”

Clow led the push to hold the bill, saying lawmakers and Ybarra need more time to consider it.

“I’m struggling with the question of is this a good bill,” Clow said after the meeting adjourned.

Ybarra’s staff had sought to fast-track the bill, which includes an emergency clause that would put it into law immediately upon passage.

The spokeswoman for former Superintendent Tom Luna confirmed Monday that Luna served as chairman of this board during his tenure.

Ybarra did not testify to the bill during Monday or Wednesday’s House Education meetings.

In other Statehouse education news Wednesday:

Parental rights. Rep. Janet Trujillo is back with another bill that she says will reassert parental rights.

Trujillo New
Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls

The one-page bill reads, “Parents and legal guardians who have legal custody of minor children have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, education and control of their children.”

Trujillo did not discuss education in a brief presentation to the House State Affairs Committee. However, she said unspecified court decisions and laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act undermine the role of parents. “Parental rights are under siege.”

In 2014, Trujillo pushed a parental rights bill that drew a lukewarm reaction from education groups. This bill passed the House but was never considered in the Senate.

House State Affairs voted unanimously Wednesday to print Trujillo’s new bill, and it is likely to come back to the committee for a full hearing.