Idaho State Representative Chad Christensen (R-Ammon) who represents Teton County, posted on his “Chad Christensen for Idaho” Facebook page alleging that the Teton School Board and staff violated policy and “nearly” Idaho law.
He wrote that the school board, “nearly violated the open meeting law by attempting to shut down questions and comments. I was going to let them know they could not do that, but they eventually allowed the comments and questions. Smart move. I have to sit in committee for hours at times, because of the open meeting law.”
In a follow up with the Teton Valley News, Christensen expressed that his understanding of the Open Meeting Law left room for some “gray areas,” and said, “I was glad to see them allow everyone a chance to comment, after the meeting was opened up for public comment.”
The school board listened to almost four hours of public comment at last Tuesday’s meeting allowing community members to speak about the decision to change the Teton High School Redskin name as well as allowing members of the community to give input on the plan to retire the 90-year-old mascot.
Chairperson Chris Isaacson closed the public comment near the end of the meeting to discuss the ideas from the community, which were presented that evening. However, members of the audience wanted to continue to comment, so she allowed for additional communication. Christensen said in his post that he was happy that the community was allowed to continue to comment.
Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Billie Siddoway, who is the gatekeeper of the Idaho Open Meeting Law as it pertains to local governing bodies told the Teton Valley News on Friday, “Idaho’s open meeting law does not require a governing body to accept public comment, generally. There are some exceptions, like land use application hearings. In the absence of a public hearing requirement, a board may establish its own rules regarding public comment,” she said. “A board’s imposition of a limit in the middle of a public comment period does not violate Idaho law, but it may give the appearance of unfairness or impropriety.”
An official statement issued by the Teton School District in response to the Teton Valley News’ request for comment read, “Teton School District #401 stands by its compliance with the Open Meeting Law. The district has received emails charging violations of the law and allegations that a complaint would be filed with the Attorney General’s office. In its reply, the school district has stated that we welcome a review.”
The Teton Valley News has submitted a public records request to see the emails alleging violations of law as was suggested by the district public relations officer Jeanne Anderson on Friday. Anderson did not have further comment regarding the emailed complaints to the district.
“Teton School District #401 takes transparency seriously, and complies with state-required transparency regulations. Also, the district is the only local jurisdiction currently live streaming public meetings (on social media) as a service to patrons,” read the statement.
In May, a fourth grade teacher sent out a district wide survey about the mascot and the impending decision to retire it to staff and not to students. Melissa Young publicly defended her decision to send out the survey that gathered staff input on the mascot. Christensen alleged that she violated school district policy along with every other teacher who took the survey.
“I understand a school teacher violated the neutrality policy by soliciting opinions from other teachers and students. Thus other teachers would have violated this neutrality policy, as well.”
Regarding the neutrality policy, the district’s master contract states: “Certificated employees will provide both sides of any controversial issue in any classroom.” The internal survey was done for teachers’ and staff participation only. The student survey was conducted by the Teton High School Student Council,” said the district in their statement backing Young.
Christensen has taken a public stand to support the Redskin name and was invited to attend school board meetings from members of the Save the Redskin group who run a closed Facebook page online.
“This group of constituents (Save the Redskins group) has asked me to attend these meetings. I agreed to it. Yes, I do attend other local government meetings, such as commissioners’ meetings. I also recently attended a local school ground-breaking ceremony in Ammon,” said Christensen this week after the meeting to the TVN.
“I do believe this is a state matter, as well,” he added regarding the Teton High School mascot. “It is a state matter for more than one reason, especially after the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe made their statement to the State Board of Education,” he said of the tribe asking the state to remove all Native American mascots from public school in Idaho.
“This lawmaker won’t be helping the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe,” said Christensen on his Facebook page regarding the tribe’s request.
Christensen also questioned in Thursday’s Facebook post the backing that the school board used to vote in favor of changing the Redskin name and disagreed with using grant funding to financially support the $30,000 price tag to remove the Redskin name from the high school. “They said no taxpayer money would be used, however they discussed grants. Grants are still taxpayer funded,” he wrote.
The school board discussed private grants including money from the German company Adidas who provides grant funding to schools looking to eliminate the name.
“The name needs to be saved,” concluded Christensen in the post. “It is part of the valley’s heritage. They loved their Native American neighbors. This only erases history, saddening.”