An extra credit offering in two Coeur d’Alene High School government classes has raised the ire of some parents and GOP officials concerned that one political candidate is being promoted over another.
Coeur d’Alene School District Superintendent Harry Amend said he received a call from a parent earlier this week concerned that students were being encouraged to help with the re-election campaign of state Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene. The students were told they’d get extra class points, while there was no mention made of Sayler’s opponent, Republican Sharon Culbreth, or any other candidate.
Amend said he immediately called Principal Randy Russell, who spoke with the school’s government teachers and was assured students would be reminded that the extra credit applied for work done with any political campaign or public process.
“They both clarified with their classes that they were talking about any and all campaigns and made a clear statement that they weren’t just talking about one campaign,” he said.
Government teacher Brian Holgate said he thought he had made it abundantly clear that Sayler’s campaign was one of the many opportunities students have to earn extra points. Sayler, a former government teacher at Coeur d’Alene High whose wife still teaches at the school, was the only candidate mentioned by name because Sayler was the only candidate who told Holgate it’s OK for students to contact him, the teacher said.
“He’s the only one that contacted us and said if any kids want to take part, that would be great,” Holgate said. “If (anyone has) a candidate that wants volunteer help, I’ll let our kids know what times they can come help out, put up signs, whatever they want to do.”
Government students at area high schools usually are encouraged to take part in the political process by helping with campaigns, attending public meetings or serving as poll greeters on Election Day.
“It has nothing to do with the politics of it – it’s just taking part in the process,” Holgate said. “We’re not picking a candidate and saying, ‘This is who we want to win.’ “
Duane Rasmussen, president of the North Idaho Pachyderm Club and vice chairman of Kootenai County’s Republican Party, called it “disingenuous” for teachers to say they only mentioned one candidate by name because no others had contacted them.
“They know full well there’s more than one candidate in most of the races. To attempt to put one candidate’s phone number out there is just wrong,” he said. “It raises the appearance of impropriety.”
Sayler said he wasn’t aware of the situation, but he’s confident his former colleagues would not use their positions to promote a candidate.
“I don’t think there’s any indoctrination going on,” he said. “I would be upset if there were.”
He retired from teaching in 2004 and said he always encouraged his students to participate in the political process. Sayler said he always made it “abundantly clear” that the political affiliation of a candidate had no bearing on whether the students would get extra credit.
One of his students even became heavily involved in his opponent’s campaign back in 2002, Sayler said.
“The point was to get them involved in the political process in some way,” he said.
Parent Kellie Palm said she had heard rumors of the situation a few days ago but didn’t think anything of it until her daughter, a student at the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, said she had heard her peers talking about it.
“That needs to stay out of school, and I’m not the only parent that feels that way,” Palm said.
Holgate said the situation amounts to a misunderstanding and that it should be entirely clear that the extra credit isn’t just for Sayler’s campaign.
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