(UPDATED: Oct. 19, reflecting the death of Pete Coulson from COVID-19.)
The makeup of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education” has changed shape slightly since its membership was announced in May as more details have emerged about its members.
A representative from the Idaho School Boards Association, ISBA President-elect Jason Knopp, withdrew from the task force after its first meeting, objecting to its “lack of education professionals.” After the task force completed its summer meetings, Knopp’s replacement died of COVID-19. Previously unidentified, five other task force members introduced themselves at the task force’s inaugural meeting.
Members continue to include an Idaho Freedom Foundation employee and a charter school leader who pushed to use the Bible in public schools.
A political philosophy professor and a former Idaho State Board of Education president also sit on the 14-member assembly.
The task force, aimed at rooting out alleged “teachings on social justice, critical race theory, socialism, communism, (and) Marxism” from public schools, is co-chaired by McGeachin, running for governor in 2022, and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, who entered the race for lieutenant governor.
Critics, including State Board President Kurt Liebich say they’ve seen little evidence of widespread “indoctrination.” Liebich doubled down during the task force’s second meeting in June, saying he had “not seen any evidence of indoctrination in our public education system” to date, via a written statement.
Here’s what we know about the members so far:
Anna Miller, from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, is an active voice in education policy discussions. In recent months, she has testified in favor of policies targeting critical race theory and social justice in the classroom, at one point saying a controversial bill dealing with critical race theory did not go far enough to oust the content from public schools. The Foundation stirred upheaval in this year’s legislative session over leftist indoctrination in the classroom, an effort that stalled education budgets.
Isaac Moffett founded the now-defunct Nampa Classical Academy and drew headlines in 2009 when his school sued the state in hopes of using the Bible and other religious texts in his charter school’s curriculum. A federal district court later shot down the practice in 2011, the Associated Press reported. He left the school in 2010 and has worked as a teacher and school administrator since, according to his LinkedIn page. He recently served as principal of Marsh Valley Middle School in East Idaho, but split from the school after one school year after signing a separation agreement May 13, a week before his membership on the task force was announced, EdNews reported. The “departure had nothing to do with” his participation on the task force, Moffett told the Idaho State Journal.
On May 17, the day Marsh Valley signed off on the separation, the Buhl School District’s board voted to hire Moffett to be president of the district’s 34-student alternative high school, Wakapa, according to meeting minutes obtained by EdNews.
Sonya Harris is a politically active Blackfoot school board trustee. In the past, she’s advocated for a sex education “opt-in” bill and has decried Common Core standards, at one point saying curriculum and textbook providers use Common Core to recommend “pornographic books” for use in schools, EdNews previously reported.
Elaine King previously ran for the Idaho House of Representatives in District 34, which covers the Rexburg area, in 2018, but lost in the Republican primary. She’s a former teacher who staked her campaign, in part, on her objections to Common Core, EastIdahoNews.com reported.
Joseph Kren was the principal at Priest River Lamanna High School through last spring, when he left the school after 34 years in Idaho education.
Rev. James Wilson first appeared through internet searches to be a controversial North Idaho evangelist who authored a book applying tenets of warfare to strategic evangelism, but he is not, McGeachin’s chief of staff Jordan Watters wrote by email May 27. The reverend on the task force lives in the Treasure Valley, has led a parachurch ministry for the last two decades, has a master’s degree in curriculum and development and is a credentialed teacher in Idaho and California, Watters said.
Professor Scott Yenor is a professor of political philosophy at Boise State University. His research focuses on the politics of families and marriage. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from Loyola University in Chicago.
Michael Nelson said he’s a former police officer who worked a 25-year career in the San Francisco area.
Ryan Spoon, who said he’s a West Point graduate and father, expressed worry about critical race theory being taught at U.S. military academies.
Mark Hand, a retired Marine, said he joined the task force after he “had to sit through a privilege and oppression class” while attending school for social work in Washington.
Laura van Voorhees recently moved to Kootenai County from California. She spoke of a rift between her and her daughter, which she attributes in part to critical race theory teachings at her daughter’s former college in California. “We are in a Marxist takeover, a communist takeover (in) this country. And this is a manifestation of it in our face. It’s in our homes,” she said.
Janet Adams is a retired Coeur d’Alene lawyer.
Pete Coulson worked as a coach and counselor for children. McGeachin’s office previously said he has worked in school administration and social work. He replaced Knopp, following his withdrawal from the task force. In October of 2021, he died of COVID-19.
Idaho Education News Data Analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.