The campaign to stifle discussion of race and gender in public schools has suffered a reversal in Idaho after a high school senior took a seat on the school board.
The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho's capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremists group.
I also thoroughly appreciate all of the constituents who took time to write to the Board on the freedom to read. Book bans have no place in Boise! pic.twitter.com/n9qjVEokhs— Shiva Rajbhandari (he/him) (@_Shiva_R) September 13, 2022
Rajbhandari, who turned 18 days before the election, was already well-known in the school district as a student activist on gun control and climate change. In the closing days of the campaign, Rajbhandari was endorsed by the Idaho Liberty Dogs, who in turn helped him get the endorsement of the Idaho Statesman.
Rajbhandari was elected to a two year term with 56 percent of the vote.
Rajbhandari told The Intercept that although he had hoped people would vote for him rather than against his opponent, he was still shocked that he didn't reject the far-right group's endorsement. Rajbhandari said that the majority of voters felt that way.
The Idaho Liberty Dogs, who attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being pro masks/Vaccines, spent the summer trying to have books removed from public libraries in two cities.
I stand strongly against book bans. Free access to information is the cornerstone of a democratic civil society, and I refuse to back down to extremists. On the school board I will continue to advocate for student dignity and teacher freedom. https://t.co/K7mb1stEdU pic.twitter.com/SOrLRNMsJ0— Shiva Rajbhandari (he/him) (@_Shiva_R) August 5, 2022
Rajbhandari said, "That's the least of what they've done." There was a kid who brought a gun to my school and they organized an armed protest outside of our school.
Rajbhandari was a leader of the Extinction Rebellion climate protests when he was a teenager. He said that back in ninth grade, they used to have climate strikes, and they used to bring rifles to intimidate a bunch of kids protesting.
When the Idaho Liberty Dogs called on voters to support the other candidates for the school board, Rajbhandari sent his rival a text to say, "You need to immediately repudiate this."
Rajbhandari said that the group was a hate one. Their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy because they intimidate teachers and are a stain on our schools. Even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored "an ongoing hatred for white Christians," Schmidt refused to reject the group.
Rajbhandari knows that the forces he is fighting operate at the state and national level. Rajbhandari told me that Idaho is at the center of an out-of-state funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools. The Idaho Freedom Foundation is a group that wants to get rid of public education and get rid of funding altogether.
“Idaho is at the center of this out-of-state-funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools, with the end goal of actually abolishing public education.”
They have attacked teachers with baseless claims of 'indoctrination' in schools as well as attacks on LGBTQ youth with claims of 'grooming'
Rajbhandari confronted Idaho's far-right lieutenant governor after she set up a task force to investigate an imaginary threat.
The young activist told McGeachin and Giddings that Idaho teachers weren't teaching students to hate America. He accused the two Republican officials of being a political stunt in support of their candidacies.
He said that they wouldn't succeed. Student voices will not be silenced. You won't be able to bring Idaho back to the 1800's. The Freedom Foundation doesn't want to abolish public schools. You will not be elected to the executive branch of state government in order to fulfill the purpose of this.
Rajbhandari said that Idahoans are smart, educated and can't be fooled into believing that something is true. There are young people like me who will be voting in the Republican primary for the first time.
Rajbhandari had predicted that McGeachin would launch the task force because he was defeated in the Republican primary for governor. She refused to make the comments submitted to the task force public until she was ordered to do so by a court.
A review of the records by the Idaho Capital Sun showed that most of the public comments on the subject denied that Idaho teachers were indoctrinating students.
Rajbhandari ran for office because he was fed up with the school board ignoring pleas from students to make clean energy commitments. Two years ago, he said, a group of high school and junior high students tried to get the board to commit to renewable energy. The board never responded to Rajbhandari's petition, which was the largest petition ever to be delivered to the school district. I wrote a letter to the school board president last year, but never got a response. He read my letter after I was called to the principal's office.
Rajbhandari said that he knew he would run for a seat on the board. That is an indication of a problem. The students are the main stakeholders in our education. Our board wasn't taking our ideas seriously and they weren't willing to meet with us.
He said that his run for the board came from a place of need, because we don't have student representation on the board.
One of the most urgent priorities for action from the board is to find resources to address a mental health crisis in a state that has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the country.
Rajbhandari hopes to serve on the board for the entire school year, then hand over the seat to one of the high school juniors from the district who will watch him. Student representation on the school board will be ensured.
Rajbhandari told me that he is looking at colleges but is not sure about his next step. He said that he would like to study law about climate justice. School is trying to figure out who you want to be. I can thanks my teachers for making me who I am.