What Boise trustee candidates say about book bans and CRT

The 13 candidates for Boise School Board generally seem to agree on one point: They can’t see themselves unilaterally removing books from school libraries.

The five incumbents — and several challengers — say they support Boise’s protocols for reviewing books and learning materials. The policy urges parents to take their concerns directly to teachers. The policy also allows principals to form committees to review materials at the school level, making local decisions that can be appealed to trustees.

In May, Nampa trustees unilaterally — and permanently — banned 22 books from library shelves, a sudden decision that has sparked a local backlash and attracted national attention. Nampa trustees have since said the district needs a more structured process for reviewing library materials.

In Nampa, the process went sideways when trustees invented policy along the way, Boise incumbent trustee Dave Wagers said during a virtual candidate forum last week. “Trustee elections are important, because trustees do have that power to do that.”

Wagers is among four candidates seeking two six-year terms in Boise’s Race #1. Five of Boise’s seven trustee seats will be on the ballot on Sept. 6.

Several challengers have criticized the way the Boise district operates — saying trustees move too quickly without listening to parents. But challengers also say they will work within Boise’s policy for reviewing library materials.

Here’s a sampling of what candidates had to say about the issue last week:

  • “Banning books? Not a good place to go. Parents need to be first here,” said Todd Kurowski, a challenger for a two-year seat in Race #3.
  • Another Race #3 challenger, Nate Dean, said Nampa’s ban might have violated students’ constitutional rights — rights that don’t end when children walk into a school.
  • Matthew Shapiro, a challenger for a four-year term Race #2, said the district’s librarians are professionals who understand their responsibilities. And he said it’s “naïve” to think students aren’t getting access to questionable materials through their friends or social media.
  • Neil “Gnome” Mercer, another challenger in Race #2, said he opposed bans — but also said there are limits. “I’m not going to want to see Playboy in the library at the elementary school.”
  • Krista Hasler, a challenger in Race #1, said she supports the process for reviewing materials. But the licensed clinical social worker said she would want to make sure materials are “emotionally appropriate,” and said she would draw the line at pornography.
  • Steve Schmidt, an incumbent seeking a two-year term in Race #4, said the process of constant review is healthy. “I don’t see myself bringing books to ban, but I would welcome a review of the material.”

A sampling of CRT comments

During last week’s forums, Race #1 incumbent Beth Oppenheimer and challenger Greg Woodard clashed on critical race theory — and its presence in Boise schools.

Oppenheimer said the community needs to focus on what is actually taught in schools — not on a hot-button term many people cannot even define. “It’s nonsense,” she said. “I think that it’s just all rhetoric.”

Woodard said he is hearing from concerned parents, and chided Oppenheimer. “Beth, by just dismissing it out of hand, I think that’s a real problem.”

A year after Boise was thrust into Idaho’s version of the CRT debate last summer, when Republican lieutenant governor’s candidate Priscilla Giddings filed a far-reaching public records request for equity-related learning materials, incumbents say the issue is overblown.

Race #3 incumbent Elizabeth Langley and Race #2 incumbent Andy Hawes pointed to district policy, which allows parents to opt their children out of district lesson plans, and request alternative learning materials. Both said concerns about indoctrination are unfounded. “But if there are concerns, there are policies in place,” Hawes said.

While Woodard and fellow Race #1 challenger Hasler said the district needs to take CRT concerns seriously, other challengers also said the issue is overblown:

  • Race #3 challenger said Dawn King said parents have every right to see their kids’ curricular materials, but described the CRT debate as “politically driven.”
  • “As a teacher, I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that that is a widespread concern, or that there’s any real there there,” Dean said. However, the CRT narrative is contributing to the teacher exodus, he said, and Boise’s lack of transparency hasn’t helped.
  • Mercer said he has no concerns about CRT and indoctrination in Boise schools, and said the national controversy could have one positive effect. “I think parents being involved … is a great thing.”
  • Shiva Rajbhandari, a Boise High School senior, blamed the indoctrination backlash on a vocal minority of parents and a national effort to undermine public education. And he said Boise officials need to respond to these “unfounded attacks” more forcefully. “I think it’s really important to stand up to bullies.”

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Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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