Heated Caldwell School Board meeting ends in chaos
Clashing debates ended a Caldwell School District meeting early as public comments about proposed best practices around students’ sexual orientation and gender identity got out of hand.
The room was packed and members of the public were giving their remarks on the proposed policy, which would offer guidance to staff on how to address students’ gender identities, including protocols around bathroom access.
Outside, a few hundred people were waiting in line to comment during the one hour allotted to public feedback. Earlier in the week, the far right group Idaho Liberty Dogs put a call out on social media encouraging people to show up to oppose the text.
Several times, Chair of the board Marisela Pesina warned the crowd inside the room to maintain order.
State Senator Chris Trakel of Canyon County was there and said he was attending as an official, not as a parent.
He strongly opposed the proposal during his time to comment and a remark to the Chair derailed the proceedings.
“Before you waste taxpayer money, before you put a kid in harm's way, you better throw this policy out and not even consider…,” Trakel said, trailing off before asking: “I've got the floor. Mrs. Pesina, will you please listen to me?”
The meeting was adjourned quickly thereafter and the room erupted into cries of protest.
The parents who spoke against the policy during the meeting mentioned their Christian faith and characterized transgender children as threats to their cisgendered peers. Many comments focused on bathroom and locker room protocols.
Three students from the District spoke in support of the policy, saying they wanted their fellow students to feel safe. Caldwell High student Kelsey Smith said refusing to provide accommodations for trans children at school was an infringement on their right to equality.
“I feel it is important to value the identity of one another and realize that we are all human,” she said. “Pushing for bathroom equality is something to me that is imperative to show respect and kindness to my fellow peers.”
Parent Brian Festa equated LGBTQ inclusivity to a religious belief and stated the text went against his First Amendment right.
“This policy seeks to present a religion, a religious view that is in opposition to my family's religious viewpoints,” he said. “We teach our children that a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl, and that God created only two of them.”
“The Caldwell School District Board of Trustees believes in fostering an educational environment that is safe and free of discrimination for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” the first paragraph of the text reads. “This policy is designed to create a safe learning environment for all students and to ensure that every student has equal access to all school programs and activities.”
It goes on to say students or school employees who fail to follow the policy may be subject to disciplinary action. It lays out best practices such as allowing students to express their preferred gender at school and respecting their right to confidentiality by not disclosing their trans identity without permission. The text is yet to be finalized.
“It really bothers me that here they can come up with all this junk,” said Caldwell resident Linda McConnell, also voicing her opposition to the text. “We’re to teach the children, period. Reading, writing, arithmetic, science, government; that's what you're supposed to be doing. We don't have time for this other foolishness.”
Caldwell resident Tammy Denver spoke in support of the policy, in reference to a section that advises school staff to refer to students with their given names and using their gender assigned at birth when communicating with their parents.
“If parents are concerned their students are not being forthcoming with them but are discussing their gender struggles with school officials, my suggestion is to get introspective as to why their child is not comfortable disclosing that in their home.”
“We should lead with love, civility and understanding. It seems the least we can do,” she added. “Our children and grandchildren do. They are grossly less reactionary and far more understanding of these issues than we are. They get it. I would ask you to follow their lead.”
The board is scheduled to meet for a work session on Jan. 23.
Find reporter Julie Luchetta on Twitter @JulieLuchetta.