Three local residents on Friday launched an effort to recall members of the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees following its decision earlier in the day to stay the course regarding the district’s current hybrid model of instruction.
Pocatello residents Jesse Ward and Brandi Clark along with Chubbuck resident Troy Sutton, all of whom are parents of School District 25 students, filed their petition to recall school board members Jackie Cranor, Janie Gebhardt and Dave Mattson with the Bannock County elections office late Friday morning. Ward, Clark and Sutton are part of a group called the Concerned Parents of Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25.
While the school board’s decision to continue the current hybrid schedule for middle and high school students for the remainder of the trimester is one point of contention, Ward says the primary catalyst for launching the recall effort is the board’s inability to fully represent the electorate on a number of issues, including the 2018 school boundary issue and the board’s recent decision to retire the Pocatello High School Indians mascot.
“We’ve started the process to recall members of the school board because we no longer feel they are serving as representatives of the electorate,” Ward said. “The electorate has taken the time to show up to meetings to voice their opinions concerning everything from boundary changes to Pocatello High School’s mascot to the learning model that the district has employed. The majority of people have been in opposition to every decision that the board has made and we will no longer stand for their disregard of the people.”
School District 25 issued the following response to the recall effort: “We have five genuine, dedicated, fully engaged Board Members who serve the educational needs of our community with the best intentions. Our school district and our community owe our heartfelt gratitude for their selflessness and service. Our administration and staff are discouraged and disheartened that the Board’s graceful and grounded leadership during one of the most challenging times of our lives would be questioned with a baseless recall effort. Essentially, serving on the Board is fulfilling the responsibilities of a part-time job without compensation.”
The Friday morning vote by the school board to remain in the current hybrid model of instruction until the end of the trimester was unanimous and took place during a public meeting at the district’s main office on Pole Line Road. The two-hour meeting involved district administrators providing the school board with updates to the current outlook regarding COVID-19 in the community as well as numerous members of the public providing comments.
The Idaho State Journal livestreamed the meeting, which is accessible by visiting tinyurl.com/SD25-09-18-Boardmeeting.
School District 25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher was one of the first district officials to address the board at the meeting, providing an update from local hospital leaders regarding how COVID-19 is affecting their capacities. She also discussed the many emails the district has received from parents regarding its model of instruction.
Since the school year began, Fisher said the district has received 195 emails about what instruction model would be best for District 25 students, of which 126 advocated going back to the traditional full-time, in-person modality and 69 were in support of keeping the hybrid model in place.
“Some think that hybrid is a good balance between safety and education,” Fisher said. “We’ve had comments that hybrid is brilliant, marvelous and wise or it’s ridiculous, stupid and stressful. Some parents want a choice and a say in what is happening... and some families with more than one child have mixed reviews in their household.”
Sue Pettit, School District 25’s director of secondary education, provided the school board with an update regarding some of the work being done to bolster the remote learning aspect of the district’s current hybrid model, which involves all middle and high school students receiving in-person classroom instruction two days of the week with three days of online or remote learning.
The district is working to implement a synchronous online learning modality that involves teachers instructing one half of the class in person while the other half of the class participates in the lecture remotely, something similar to how Idaho State University has approached some of its instruction via “Meeting Owls.” In addition to allowing all students to receive the same instruction or lecture, Pettit said this modality would lighten the workload on teachers who are preparing both in-person and online lectures twice per week.
In addition to keeping with the current hybrid model of instruction, the school board at Friday’s meeting added the condition that the district’s administration make synchronous online learning a top priority moving forward.
School District 25 Superintendent Doug Howell addressed the concern of many parents that the online learning aspect of the hybrid model is not as rigorous as some would like and is inconsistent from grade-to-grade or teacher-to-teacher.
“I know there are a number of concerns that have been shared in regard to the rigor of the hybrid model and I take some of that responsibility,” Howell said. “If the rigor is not there, we need to do something to make it a little bit better. As we’ve gone through this with two week increments, I wonder did we send a strong enough message to our teachers to say this is serious and we need you at your 100 percent capacity every day, both online and in-person? And actually it’s 200 percent because you are preparing two lessons for every day of the week essentially.”
A total of 15 community members provided public comment to the school board at Friday’s meeting. Only one person, a senior at Century High School, spoke in favor of keeping the current hybrid model of instruction in place.
While the senior at Century admitted this is not how she imagined her senior year would transpire, she has been grateful for the two days every week she has been able to enjoy the in-person company of her friends, adding that “going fully remote would suck a lot more, to be honest.”
The many people who spoke in favor of the district returning to a full-time, in person teaching method said their reasoning centered on the notion that hybrid learning was simply not working for students and that many of their children need direct interaction with their teachers in order to learn effectively. These individuals also told the school board that local public health officials are focusing too much on active COVID-19 cases and not enough on the “extremely low” number of COVID-19 deaths in Idaho, especially the deaths of those under the age of 18.
“We have watched as facts that are being presented have been skewed and not presented in a full manner,” Ward told the Journal after Friday’s school board meeting.
The intention of the recall petition is to break up the quorum of the board, said Ward, adding they chose to recall just Cranor, Gebhardt and Mattson because of how few signatures they would need to collect, which is indicative of the low level of support for those board members from the electorate.
To recall Mattson, the group needs to collect 206 signatures from registered voters living in Zone 5 of the district. To recall Cranor, the group needs to collect 164 signatures from registered voters living in Zone 1. And to recall Gebhardt, the group needs to collect 351 signatures from registered voters living in Zone 2. An interactive map of the School District 25 Board of Trustees voting zones is accessible by visiting the following case-sensitive link: bit.ly/2FLczhg.
The group has 75 days from Friday to submit their signatures to the Bannock County Elections Office, which then has 15 days to verify the signatures. If the group garners enough verified signatures for the recall effort, each board member would have five days to voluntarily resign. If a board member does not resign, a recall question for that member would be added to an election ballot and must receive as many in-favor votes that each candidate secured when they were originally elected. In Cranor’s case that’s 279 votes, for Gebhardt that’s 417 votes and 278 votes would be needed to recall Mattson.
Each board member recalled will be removed from the board.
The deadline to add ballot questions to the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election has already passed, so the May 2021 primary is the soonest the recall initiative could make its way onto the ballot.
“I just want to say that students have shown exemplary courage throughout this process and we commend them for that,” Ward said. “It’s time the parents do the same. If any of you parents want your children to be in school full time, then you need to sign this petition.”
School District 25 responded, “Our school board is crucial to sustaining participatory and representative government. As such, they are responsible for weighing a variety of factors when it comes to making decisions. This does not always mean majority rules. We have a responsibility as a school district for the education of more than 12,000 learners, in addition to the care and safety of those same learners and 1,700 staff members. We respect that families want what they deem best for their own children and we weigh that feedback with several other factors involved in making these tough decisions. We value our partnership with our local public health officials and medical professionals. Contrary to what has been implied, these decisions have not been made out of fear, but science-based guidance from medical professionals and public health experts.”
The district continued, “In the few short weeks that we have been back in session, our teachers have made a strong and commendable effort to maintain rigorous instruction for all learners, whether they are attending face-to-face or remotely. At the Board’s direction (on Friday), we will continue our concerted, ongoing efforts to improve hybrid learning and deliver on our educational promise to the best of our ability during these challenging times.”