School Board Forgot First Amendment Right

The following guest opinion is authored by a retired member of the Idaho Bar, who practiced law for several decades in Boise.

Guest Opinion by

The Legislature passed into law one bill to criminalize gender-affirming medical care and another to criminalize any person involved in interstate travel of girls for abortion. Gov. Brad Little signed those bills, although he did veto a bill criminalizing librarians for not engaging in certain book-banning.

Only one member of the Boise School District Board of Trustees, Shiva Rajbhandari, expressed his frustration with the Governor’s actions. He said aloud what many of us thought. Those thoughts were expressed with profane language, but they addressed the extreme threat that this Legislature had made to the health, safety and lives of too many young people in Idaho. That Gov. Little, supposedly the moderate Republican, would sign those bills, says much about the power that right-wing Republicans, controlled by dark money forces that they do not even know exist, exert on Idaho politics. Idahoans are not nearly as hateful as their Legislature makes them out to be.

The School Board reacted badly to Mr. Rajbhandari’s social media post. It determined that Mr. Rajbhandari had violated its Code of Ethics, although it did not identify any specific part of that code in its press release, or how and why Mr. Rajbhandari’s statements, made on his personal social media, should be subject to any action by the Board of Trustees. Free speech may make people uncomfortable; sometimes it must make people uncomfortable to force them to open their eyes to behaviors that must be stopped.

That Board should have expressed its own outrage at legislation that potentially subjects its most vulnerable constituency to harm and deprives them of the medical care designed and intended to save their lives. It should not have engaged in the bullying of Mr. Rajbhandari, who is still 18 years old, facing off, unfortunately, against a Board of much older, more experienced adults. This Board of Trustees should be vehemently opposed to bullying, even by this Board of Trustees, against one of its own members. Bullying must be opposed whether on school grounds or in Board of Trustee Boardrooms.

The steps that Mr. Rajbhandari is taking are not, as insisted by the Board, an exercise in rebuilding trust. It is simply punishment for free speech that they did not like.

There is no question that Mr. Rajbhandari had a first amendment right to address these matters, even in harsh terms. It is less clear that the Board of Trustees had any right to sanction Mr. Rajbhandari at all for his protected speech. Neither the School Board nor any other body consisting of elected officials should have any right or power to sanction another member for their constitutionally protected speech. The voters who elected Mr. Rajbhandari are the sole arbiters of sanctions to be imposed. That is what elections are for.

The School Board would have done far better to issue a press release criticizing language it did not like but strongly identifying with and expressing unyielding support for the LGBTQ+ community, as Mr. Rajbhandari wholeheartedly did. That it missed this opportunity shows a complete failure to stand up for the constitutional rights that all Americans, even board members, have and the rights of Idaho’s children to the medical care they may need.

EDITOR NOTE–The GUARDIAN has also questioned the propriety of the school board meeting in a secret (executive) session to discuss the private activities of a fellow elected official.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Thank you so much for expressing this opinion. It’s an informative perspective.

  2. My original take on this was.. “that’s what we get for electing teenagers.” And I still think that it’s true to some extent. But this opinion is valid. Thanks for publishing.

  3. Maybe the best guest opinion here, ever, certainly within recollection.

    Thoughtful and balanced view of a case that highlights the condition of our Idaho and local politics:
    the terrible legislation lately, the reaction from Shiva AND the Board, and the polarized citizens. Not much good stuff going on there.

    Thank you for your time Mr French.

  4. Elect children, get tantrums…..

  5. They didn’t forget, they are in the business of violating our civil rights. Especially the rights of parents and students. Heck, they can’t even hold an honest election in November with all the other elections.

    This young dummy might have been violated, but I’m okay with it since he is a proponent of violating the rights of the people in his district.

  6. The reason for going into executive session should be in the minutes for the particular school board meeting with at least a 2/3 vote of the board. One of the reasons given in 74-206:

    (b) To consider the evaluation, dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent, or public school student;

    That sounds to me like a legitimate use of an executive session.

    EDITOR NOTE–There are several unknown issues. Was Shiva barred from the session, even though he is a co-equal elected official? Did they come to a decision (agreement) for his “consequences?” Is there a written “code of conduct or ethics policy” which legally applies to all board members? Can the board ban Shiva from attending functions as a board member even though he was elected by the citizens? All these questions are worthy of examination by the Ada Prosecutor.

  7. western guy
    Apr 26, 2023, 9:17 am

    Governing bodies don’t need more and more policies and procedures. Board members must act with an enhanced level of maturity when speaking as a member of a board. If not, the remaining board members have the duty to call out aberrant behavior and, if necessary, sanction the outlying behavior.

    Common sense must prevail.

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