POCATELLO — A local group of concerned parents on Monday submitted to the Bannock County Elections Office their petitions to recall three members of the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees.
Pocatello resident Jesse Ward, one of several parents involved with the group leading the recall effort, the Concerned Parents of Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25, said he was amazed by the community’s strong support for the endeavor.
“It took an incredible amount of work to see this through,” Ward said. “There was so much support from the community, however, that it made things much better than a typical recall effort. Our next step is to raise money for our political action committee called Values for Education and to continue the fight to improve the experience for the learners of School District 25.”
The recall effort was launched in September, primarily because of the school board’s overall inability to fully represent the electorate on a number of issues, particularly the board’s decision earlier this year to implement and continue the district’s hybrid learning model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2018 school boundary issue and the decision to retire the Pocatello High School Indians mascot, Ward told the Idaho State Journal in September.
In response to the recall effort, School District 25 issued the following statement on Thursday:
“As duly elected officials, all five members of the Board of Trustees fulfill an obligation to represent the best interest of more than 12,000 learners, in addition to the care and safety of those same learners and 1,700 staff members employed by Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25.
“The decision-making process can be arduous, especially when it comes to more controversial issues. Each board member has proven to be a conscientious public servant endeavoring to ground their decisions in sound reasoning, transparency and integrity.
“Board members understand that not every decision will gain community consensus. It is important to note, however, that each member continually receives strong opinions on every side of topical issues. The Board weighs this feedback with the many other complex factors involved in making these tough decisions, including educational best practices and guidance received from public health and medical experts. We remain hopeful that the broader community will take the many nuances of board’s roles and responsibilities into consideration as they weigh in on this recall effort.”
Ward and the group of concerned parents spent the past 75 days gaining the necessary signatures to trigger a recall election against School District 25 board members Dave Mattson, Jackie Cranor and Janie Gebhardt.
The group needed to submit to the Bannock County Elections Office by Dec. 1 a total of 206 signatures from registered voters living in Zone 5 of the district to initiate the recall process against Mattson, 164 signatures from registered voters living in Zone 1 to begin the process to recall Cranor and 351 signatures from registered voters living in Zone 2 to recall Gebhardt.
School board members Paul Vitale and Jim Facer were not included in the recall effort.
Ward said the group submitted all the necessary signatures and anywhere from about 20 to 25 percent extra for each zone to account for any signatures that could not be officially verified.
Bannock County Clerk Jason Dixon confirmed on Wednesday that his office had received the recall petitions Monday and that work was already underway to ensure the signatures on the petitions were verified within 15 business days of being received, as outlined by state statute, which is Dec. 21.
In the event that enough signatures were gathered to initiate the recall effort against Cranor, Gebhardt and Mattson, they would each have five days to voluntarily resign. Anyone who resigns would be replaced by an appointee selected by the school board.
For whoever decides against resigning, a recall question for those board members would be added to an upcoming election ballot. Election officials said that if enough signatures are confirmed to initiate the recall efforts, the recall election would be held in either March or May 2021.
In order to recall any of the three board members, a majority of the votes cast at the recall election must be in favor of such recall, and additionally, the number of votes cast in favor of each of the three recalls must equal or exceed the votes cast at the last general election for that respective board member. For Cranor that’s 279 votes, for Gebhardt that’s 417 votes and for Mattson that’s 278 votes.
If enough people vote in favor of recalling all three of the embattled school board members, the Bannock County Commission would be tasked with filling the vacancies with appointees of its choice. If just one or two of the board members are recalled, the current School District 25 Board of Trustees would be tasked with filling those vacancies with appointees who live in each respective zone, and if the vacancies cannot be filled with an appointee from within each respective zone within 90 days the board can appoint someone from outside the respective zone, so long as they reside within the School District 25 boundary.
Notwithstanding the recall efforts, School District 25 hasn’t reconsidered its retirement of the Pocatello High School Indians mascot. As of now, five options remain for the school’s new mascot and the community was invited to participate in a survey indicating which mascot suggestion is their favorite. That survey closed on Wednesday.
The top five options are the Pocatello Bison, Pocatello Phantoms, Pocatello Thunder with a Bison mascot, Pocatello Thunder with a Thunder mascot and the Pocatello Mountain Lions.
The next steps will involve the school board reviewing the survey feedback at a work session at the district’s main office on Pole Line Road in Pocatello scheduled for Dec. 8. At that time, the board will also consider putting the final mascot selection on the agenda for action at the regular board meeting at the district’s main office, set for Dec. 15.
Additionally, School District 25 on Nov. 13 sent a letter to its staff and parents stating it had no plans to make modifications to its hybrid instruction schedule for the first six weeks of the second trimester, which began on Nov. 16.
The current instructional schedule involves middle and high school students participating in two in-person learning days and three remote learning days per week. This schedule will continue through at least Jan. 15, according to the Nov. 13 letter sent from School District 25 Superintendent Doug Howell.
The school board is set to reassess the instructional model at a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Jan. 5.
While the hybrid learning schedule has mostly remained the same since the start of the school year in August, other than swapping Wednesday and Friday as remote learning days for all middle and high school students, School District 25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher says the district has made constant improvements to its hybrid learning model.
These improvements include: Offering further tips and strategies for building success on remote learning days through our middle school and high school counselors. Establishing internet cafes and after-school tutoring to support learners who need additional help. And lastly, all middle schools and high schools are offering virtual tutoring during the school day where learners can reach out to get homework help from a teacher via Google Meet.
“Our entire district team has made a concerted effort to listen to feedback and respond accordingly to continue providing quality instruction and learning in the most unusual of circumstances,” Fisher said.