Republican schools chief Sherri Ybarra held the only campaign event she’s publicly promoting, a two-hour fundraiser Friday with a small crowd inside an Eagle bar.
The event was hosted by — and Ybarra appeared beside — a former Idaho principal whose teaching certificates were suspended by the state amid multiple workplace sexual harassment allegations.
During the two-hour event, Ybarra mingled among the 35 people at the bar, most of whom were there independent of Ybarra’s campaign. She introduced herself to bar patrons and small groups playing pool or squeezed into booths enjoying a happy hour beverage.
Most bar patrons told Idaho Education News they didn’t know Ybarra and were not aware a campaign event was taking place that night. Eventually, a group of pool players grabbed Ybarra signs and posed for photos with Ybarra after she urged them to participate in a fundraiser.
Organizers cleared out the center of the bar and arranged two dozen chairs in a circle, but nobody sat in them and Ybarra didn’t make a big speech or outline any education initiatives. Instead, she addressed the bar just briefly after more than an hour of walking among the booths.
“I’m Sherri Ybarra and I’m running for re-election,” she told the patrons. “I’m glad you’re here and if you have any questions, or just want to chat, that’s what I’m here for. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for coming out and supporting education.”
The gathering was important because it is the only campaign event posted on Ybarra’s campaign Facebook page as she mounts her re-election campaign.
The event took place at an Eagle bar called The Gathering Place. When asked why she picked The Gathering Place, Ybarra said “This is a historic building for Eagle.” She also said the owner allowed her to use it free of charge and that the venue has staged several successful fundraisers for the University of Idaho.
Ybarra confirmed to Idaho Education News she knows bar owner William McCarrel Jr., a former principal at Mountain Home Junior High, where Ybarra used to work.
In 2011, the Professional Standards Commission indefinitely suspended McCarrel’s teaching and administrator’s certificate after accusing him of multiple counts of sexual harassment, state records show.
According to the stipulation agreement, obtained by Idaho EdNews, McCarrel waived his right to a due process hearing after the PSC accused him of sexually harassing three of his employees at Mountain Home Junior High multiple times.
According to PSC documents, McCarrel asked an employee to flash her breasts, if she posted nude photos online and whether she would be interested in a “threesome”. The PSC also alleged that McCarrel pulled an employee’s hair from behind and then asked her if she “liked it rough.”
The PSC further alleges McCarrel asked another employee if he could watch her while she pumped breast milk. McCarrel allegedly made comments asking a third employee if she was “flowing slow today” while she was pumping breast milk.
Ybarra’s teaching certificate indicates she worked at Mountain Home Junior High during the 2010-11 school year. Ybarra confirmed she was aware of the allegations against McCarrel before scheduling Friday’s campaign event at his establishment.
“He was punished for that, and he’s still a friend of mine,” Ybarra told Idaho EdNews at the event. “We’re not around kids right now, we’re at a fundraiser.”
During an interview Friday at the bar, Ybarra repeated “this has nothing do with that.”
McCarrel did not contest the PSC’s sexual harassment allegations, but he never admitted guilt. McCarrel signed a stipulation agreement with the PSC in February 2011 that acknowledged he was aware of the allegations and that the PSC would impose disciplinary action as a result of those allegations.
McCarrel applied unsuccessfully to have his teaching certificate reinstated in 2016, according to state records.
Ybarra’s event included a silent auction fundraiser. Auction items included homemade pie, a bar tab, a Bill O’Reilly book, craft baskets, gift cards and Boise State University swag.
When asked about upcoming campaign events, Ybarra said she will follow the Idaho GOP schedule and join a Republican bus tour “for two weeks.” Ybarra skipped an Idaho Falls City Club superintendent forum earlier Friday, after telling organizers this summer that her calendar was full and she did not have time to debate in Idaho Falls.
Ybarra also declined to participate in Tuesday’s upcoming Idaho EdNews campaign roundtable discussion. Ybarra initially said she had a conflict. When asked if she was attending a different event at the same time, she replied that she is already participating in one debate this week, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Friday on Idaho Public Television. EdNews reporters Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin will serve on the panel during Friday’s debate.
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed research to this report.