Did Idaho Rep. Cross Line with Teacher Email?

Politics and policy came together inappropriately when an Idaho legislator tried to recruit teachers and students to fight proposed education reforms. The line appears to be clear between encouraging government class discussions and actively seeking referendum opponents. The Idaho Statesman reports:

House Minority Leader John Rusche told Rep. Sue Chew on Monday that an email sent from her legislative account to nearly 800 addressees was inappropriate.

The May 12 email suggested high school government classes focus on referendums seeking to overturn three education reform laws authored by GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

“Allowing students to register to vote and keeping them informed of upcoming events, such as the referendum, is a way for the teachers to instill the rhetoric from class within their students’ lives,” said the email.

Under the subject line, “Next steps?” the email went to many teachers, mostly to private email accounts, but about 30 went to school accounts.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about encouraging activity in the classroom around a specific position on the referendum,” said Rusche, of Lewiston. “I thought this was over the line and deserved to be corrected. She acknowledged that and said it wouldn’t happen again.”

The day after Chew’s email — but before he knew of it — Luna emailed a warning to school trustees and administrators that educators who engaged in political activity at school were subject to firing for violating their ethics code.

Luna received a copy of Chew’s email four days after his warning memo from Star City Councilman Gary Smith, a recipient. Wrote Smith: “I don’t want my taxes being used for political campaigns, especially when they are using their office and their position to influence our kids.”

Chew said she erred. “We’ll do things better next time,” she said, adding that her aim was to keep young people politically active after a heated debate.