McGeachin-Trump summit, four-hour agenda set table for indoctrination task force meeting

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, middle, introduces her Education Task Force on May 27, at the Idaho Capitol. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s indoctrination task force will reconvene Thursday on the heels of a related meetup with former President Donald Trump, according to her gubernatorial campaign.

The task force is set to hear presentations on education policy from an intern in McGeachin’s office, a hardline conservative candidate for state superintendent and fellow task force members, according to a meeting agenda.

McGeachin and Trump met Monday at Trump Tower in New York City “to discuss important issues related to our country, the state of Idaho, and their united efforts to push back against the radical left’s attempts to indoctrinate America’s schoolchildren with some of the most toxic and anti-American theories ever conceived,” McGeachin’s campaign said in a news release Wednesday. Meanwhile, the “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education” is scheduled to look into alleged leftist “indoctrination” in Idaho’s public schools. Scheduled speakers include GOP state superintendent candidate Branden Durst; a former leader of a defunct charter school; and task force co-chair and lieutenant governor’s candidate Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird.

The slate of presenters

 For weeks, the task force’s second meeting was set to focus on alleged leftist indoctrination in K-12 public schools. The meeting agenda sheds new light on Thursday’s four-hour docket.

Like the inaugural meeting, the second’s schedule is dominated by presentations.

Sonya Harris, a conservative, politically active Blackfoot School Board trustee, will join Jim Chmelik, a former Idaho County commissioner, to present on the topic “Idaho School Board Association.”

Neither speaker represents the Idaho School Boards Association, policy and government affairs director Quinn Perry said Wednesday. Perry said she had notified McGeachin’s office of the error.

To ISBA’s knowledge, Perry said, Chmelik is not a school board trustee. Chmelik unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor against now-Gov. Brad Little in the 2014 Republican primary.

ISBA President-elect Jason Knopp withdrew from the task force a week after its first meeting, decrying “partisan campaigning” and the group’s “lack of education professionals.”

McGeachin office intern Brooke Berry will also speak, delivering what the agenda calls a “State Board of Education Policy Review.”

McGeachin’s office requested that State Board officials present, but they declined, State Board spokesperson Mike Keckler confirmed Wednesday evening. The State Board offered written comment instead.

“The board president was concerned about the tone of the first meeting and thought it would be best to respond in writing as opposed to in person,” Keckler told EdNews by phone.

Isaac Moffett, who founded a now-defunct charter school and pushed to use the Bible in public school classrooms, will present on “Superintendents.” Now principal at Marsh Valley Middle School, it’s unclear whether Moffett has ever served as a superintendent.

To a question about what qualifies presenters to provide an objective look at Idaho education, McGeachin, in part, told EdNews, “Task force member Isaac Moffett has extensive experience in education administration.”

Giddings is slated to provide a “Legislative Overview.” Durst — a former Democratic state legislator who is running for superintendent as a hardline conservative — is set to give “remarks” during a half-hour block.

Two districts could be ‘targets’

At least two school districts have received indoctrination-related public records requests.

As of June 14, Giddings had only made one public records request of a school district in search of leftist learning materials — a set of Boise School District equity-focused curricula that the district estimated would cost some $155,000 to collect.

On Tuesday, Giddings, three other task force members and a person named Lorna Mitson viewed some records, which were available for free in person, according to a Boise district news release. The materials included teachers’ guides from National Geographic’s REACH & Pathways English learning programs.

Giddings also requested Boise’s materials from Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a career readiness program that serves many economically disadvantaged students. But they were never viewed, because those third-party materials qualify as a trade secret, exempting them from disclosure, the district said.

In advance of the meeting, State Board President Kurt Liebich applauded AVID as “an education initiative producing results” in an opinion piece posted to the board’s website Wednesday.

The Coeur d’Alene School District also received records requests, from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a libertarian-leaning group that has urged Republicans to search for evidence of indoctrination. In a Coeur d’Alene Press opinion piece, the district blasted the requests for “materials used for ‘antiracism or Culturally Responsive’ teacher or staff training” as “baseless and inflammatory.”

“The District informed the IFF that no such records exist with respect to teacher or staff training, curricula for implementing ‘Cultural Responsiveness,’ or use of curricular materials such as ‘Learning for Justice!’” the district wrote.

Freedom Foundation employee Anna Miller sits on the task force. She was among those who viewed Boise School District records Tuesday.

At Thursday’s meeting, the task force will hear a presentation of “K-12 Community Feedback” which could include speeches about the requests. But aside from the Boise and Coeur d’Alene districts, it’s unclear exactly which programs and schools have been subject to members’ searches.

The Trump connection

The McGeachin campaign’s announcement of Monday’s meeting with Trump coincided with the task force meeting, in terms of chronology and content. McGeachin called the reported meeting “an honor.” And McGeachin has aligned herself closely with the former president in the early stages of her gubernatorial campaign and has doubled down on Trump’s past — and debunked — claims of widespread election fraud during the 2020 presidential race, which Trump lost.

The release referred to him only as “President Trump.”

Although Trump has ushered a conservative backlash against learning materials he says are left-slanted — such as the New York Times’ 1619 Project — McGeachin maintains the task force is in many ways uninfluenced by her recent meeting.

“The agenda for tomorrow’s meeting is set and my meeting with President Trump will not change that,” McGeachin told EdNews in a written statement Wednesday evening. “I certainly appreciate Trump’s passion for patriotic education and his work to make people aware of problems with our education system, but the inspiration for my task force came from the debates taking place in the Idaho Legislature and from the work being done on the issue by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.”

A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request to confirm his meeting with McGeachin.

Open meeting rules likely not at play

 Until Wednesday afternoon, the task force’s agenda would have been unclear to committee followers based far from Boise. Before then, the agenda was posted only physically, outside McGeachin’s office and in the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium, where task force meetings are held.

After EdNews inquired about the agenda, McGeachin’s office said paper copies were posted Tuesday. The online version went live following the inquiry.

If the task force was subject to the Idaho Open Meeting Law, the late notice could have constituted a violation. Groups subject to the rules can post agendas “in a prominent place at the principal office of the public agency,” but they’re also required to post agendas for regular meetings digitally “if the entity maintains an online presence through a website or a social media platform.”

The website and social media guidelines would apply to McGeachin, but the task force isn’t likely subject to open meeting rules.

It is “likely” that “the task force is not subject to the Open Meeting Law,” Scott Graf, a spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said in an email Wednesday. The task force is not a public agency, Graf said, and was not created by statute.

The task force’s meeting is scheduled to run from 1 to 5 p.m. The meeting will be streamed here through Idaho in Session.

Idaho Education News reporters Sami Edge and Kevin Richert contributed to this report.

About 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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