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Eye On Boise

Luna, teachers tussle over political activity warning

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is warning Idaho teachers they could lose their certification if they participate in recall efforts against him or a referendum effort to repeal his school reform legislation or engage in other political activities on school grounds. Idaho Education Association officials decried the warning, which went out in a statewide email to school districts and school boards on Friday, with IEA President Sherri Wood saying, “Through his email, Luna is trying to shut down a process in which he has a clear political interest.” Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman, said, “We are in no way trying to stop someone from being politically active. We just make sure educators are following the code of ethics.” You can read Luna's full email here, the IEA's full response here, and click below for a full story from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Luna cautions teachers about political activities
JESSIE L. BONNER,Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Teachers are being warned they could lose their certification if they participate in efforts to recall Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, repeal his new education reforms or engage in other political activities on school grounds.

In a memo Friday, Luna said his office had received numerous inquiries and reports of teachers using their school email to coordinate political activities: proselytizing to students in the classroom and using pupils as couriers for political materials.

In a note to school superintendents and charter school administrators, Luna cautioned that these types of political activities were ethical violations punishable by a letter of reprimand, or suspension or revocation of a teacher's certification. He also warned that educators who are aware of such political activities and fail to report them face similar consequences.

“Those whose certificates are suspended or revoked can no longer be employed by an Idaho public school,” said Luna, who has been targeted in recent months by education activists who are seeking his ouster over a package of new education reforms.

The sweeping changes phase out tenure for teachers, limit collective bargaining and shifts money from salaries for technology upgrades in the classrooms such as laptops for high school teachers and students. The three-part plan was signed into law earlier this year and has landed in the crosshairs of a referendum campaign.

Amid the fervor over the reforms, at least one state lawmaker thinks Luna's warning to teachers about their political activities went too far.

Democratic Rep. Brian Cronin, a Boise lawmaker who was among the most outspoken opponents of the reform plan in the Idaho Legislature, said Luna's interpretation of the teacher code of ethics is overly broad and doesn't really give sufficient guidance to the school districts.

“I think the superintendent is using fear and intimation to stifle the opposition,” Cronin said.

The statewide teachers union also condemned the memo, saying Luna was trying to “intimidate Idaho educators from practicing their civil rights.”

But the state Department of Education contends the note was a reminder to teachers about the ethical code they signed when they received their certification. Idaho's teacher code of ethics for educators bars the use of “institutional privileges” for political activities except for in cases of local union office elections, according to Luna's memo.

“We are in no way trying to stop someone from being politically active. We just make sure educators are following the code of ethics,” said agency spokeswoman Melissa McGrath.

The agency has also fielded reports about inappropriate political activities related to school levy elections, she said.

“We've received phone calls and emails with complaints from parents and legislators and others about this happening in their schools and we wanted to send a reminder to school districts about this provision in the code of ethics,” McGrath said. “It really honestly was a reminder because we've received so many phone calls.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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