An Idaho school board meeting erupted in chaos and ended early on Monday after passions ran high over a proposed gender policy.
Caldwell School District, just west of Boise, abruptly shut down a heated public comment session on its new gender identity and sexual orientation policy after frustrated parents, a state lawmaker, and a student sounded off on the policy. Hundreds of people reportedly lined up out the door to speak.
One mom who appeared to be Hispanic said “we are conservatives” and called the policy “indoctrination into a cult” and “immoral child exploitation.”
“It’s a constitutional right of the parents to raise their children with their own moral values and without the imposition of alternate lifestyles,” she said.
“The is an attack on God and family,” the mom continued. “The educational system has become a pawn for destroying our children, Christian culture, and the guarantee of freedoms in our republic.”
The Caldwell district’s new gender policy would allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity rather than their biological sex. School staff must conceal the student’s new gender identity from parents unless the parent has already worked with the school on a “plan” for accommodating the student’s gender identity, according to the policy. On overnight trips, transgender students may not be denied a sleeping room assignment based on their “transgender status,” the policy mandates. School staff must also use a student’s preferred pronouns or be subject to discipline.
School Board Chairwoman Marisela Pesina repeatedly threatened to stop the meeting if the crowd did not stop applauding and voicing their agreement with speakers.
“We can stop this meeting. I’ve already asked you folks,” Pesina said.
A former Caldwell teacher’s aide and school counselor whose children attended Caldwell schools spoke against the policy.
“As a school counselor, I know that children’s identity is transitory,” she said. “I think it’s a crime to encourage them to settle in on one thing just because it happens to be the mode of the day.”
A sixth-grade girl spoke and simply said she did not want to change or use the restroom with boys.
“I don’t think that it’s right for a boy who feels like he’s a girl to change in the same room as the girls because it would make us all feel very uncomfortable changing with a boy,” she said.
Three other students teamed up on remarks in favor of the gender policy, one of whom shares a last name with the school board chairwoman, which prompted a reaction from the crowd.
“Any relation, Pesina?” one woman called out.
“Ma’am, this will be your first warning,” Pesina responded, pointing at her.
An older woman spoke in favor of the policy, telling the board she appreciated their “courage” and saying parents should be “introspective” about why their children might not share their gender identity with them.
Another woman called for the board to consult a committee of parents in drafting the gender policy. One particularly passionate woman told the board, “Everybody is going to answer to God one day. You’re not going to escape it.”
Brian Festa, a civil rights attorney and the dad of a Caldwell student said the gender identity policy violates religious freedom. An older woman who said she has lived in the area since 1970 and sent all her children to Caldwell schools suggested having separate bathrooms for transgender students.
“Otherwise we’ll just close the regular schools. It can be done. It’s been done,” she said.
The meeting unraveled when Idaho state senator Chris Trakel, whose district includes the Caldwell area, got up to speak.
“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 as Pesina leaned over to speak to another board member.
“I’ve got the floor. Mrs. Pesina, will you please listen to me?” Trakel said. “You claim you want people to follow the rules, but you break the rules left and right.”
“Alright, we will recess,” Pesina responded, causing the crowd to erupt in protest, some shouting, “Recall! Recall!”
“Can you turn him off?” Pesina said, pointing to Trakel’s microphone.
The board then voted to adjourn the meeting as parents continued to shout.
In recent years, school board meetings have become a battleground for parental rights. Exasperated parents around the country have shown up to their local board meetings to protest progressive gender policies, some even claiming the school transitioned their children behind their backs.
Parents have recently expressed their frustration around a litany of other problems as well including pandemic-related learning loss, inappropriate sexual content, and inadequate school safety.