When the Idaho GOP campaign bus tour rolled into Gooding on Oct. 24, the students and staff at North Valley Academy Public Charter School were ready. The entire student body, in the colorful uniforms that are required at the patriotism-themed charter school, assembled on the lawn in front of the school, the school string orchestra played, and the kids sang the national anthem.
According to an Idaho Republican Party Facebook post, campaign signs for the various Republican candidates were planted in the lawn along the sidewalk at the front of the school for the half-hour event. Among candidates re-posting the party’s post was GOP candidate for state schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who participated in the bus tour; both her post and the party’s said, “The Idaho GOP Bus Tour received a warm welcome at North Valley Academy in Gooding. Their student band played for us and did an amazing job! We’re on our way to Wendell!” However, Kaycee Emery, spokeswoman for the Otter for Idaho campaign, said Ybarra wasn't at that stop, though she was at others on other days. Emery said the Gooding stop, unlike others, included no stump speeches.
“I don’t believe it was a campaign event,” said the school’s board chairwoman and founder, Deby Infanger. “For us it was a visit from the governor.” She added, “It was outside. And he does what governors do, he supports public education, and I think it was very appropriate to thank him and sing the national anthem with him.” Infanger said she was out of town and didn’t attend the event, but said, “We gave the governor a plaque and thanked him for his support of education.”
The event took place during the school day, from 1:30 to 2 p.m. on a Friday. But the state Board of Education’s Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators strictly forbids using schools “for the promotion of political candidates or for political activities.” Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna sent a memo in May of 2011 to all district superintendents, charter school administrators and school board trustees outlining the prohibitions, and warning against “allowing the use of the school to further political agendas in conjunction with any school activity or event.”
In his memo, he wrote, “If substantiated, each is a violation of the Code of Ethics and is punishable by a letter of reprimand, the placing of conditions on the educator’s certificate or the suspension or revocation of the educator’s certificate. … Those whose certificates are suspended or revoked can no longer be employed by an Idaho public school.”
Luna urged educators to “ensure that your professional employees do not put their certification at risk by violating the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators.”
Brady Moore, spokesman for Luna, said today that the state’s Professional Standards Commission will neither confirm nor deny whether it is looking into the GOP bus tour event at the public charter school, or whether it has received a complaint. The soonest the Professional Standards Commission could hold a hearing on the issue would be its next meeting in January, he said. “So it’s kind of hard to say at this point whether or not it would be a violation,” Moore said.
“Any certified person could technically be penalized by the professional standards commission, if it’s found to be a violation,” Moore said. “It can go all the way from a letter of revocation to a letter that says, ‘Don’t do that again.’”
David Johnston, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, said he was on the bus tour. “It was a great stop,” he said. “The pictures, I think, said it all. It was a great crowd, a good turnout. We rolled up there and everybody was out on the front lawn, and the band did a great job on their performance.” Johnston said he wasn’t aware that the academy was a public school. “We didn’t stop at any other schools,” he said.