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While extremists chase away Idaho teacher of the year, state’s leaders stay silent

from the Idaho Statesman

Idaho’s 2023 teacher of the year Karen Lauritzen, previously a fourth-grade teacher in Post Falls in North Idaho, has left the state, chased away by far-right extremists.

Far-right extremists have chased away yet another good person from Idaho. This time, they’ve scared off Karen Lauritzen, Idaho’s 2023 teacher of the year. Lauritzen, who was a fourth-grade teacher in Post Falls in North Idaho, is leaving after right-wing activists and their allies attacked her and called her a “left-wing activist,” according to The Boston Globe.

Among her offenses? Supporting LGBTQ+ students, African-American students and, apparently, teaching about the United Nations.

The attacks came after she was named teacher of the year, selected by a blue ribbon panel from among 13 finalists. Can you imagine the kind of person who, upon hearing that a teacher was just named teacher of the year, reacts by trying to find ways to attack that teacher for being an educator? Lauritzen was accused of “promoting transgenderism.” Extremists reportedly found social media posts in which Lauritzen showed support for the LGBTQ+ community and Black Lives Matter, as if supporting all students were a bad thing for a teacher to do.

Lauritzen told the Boston Globe she faced complaints from parents about a lesson on some worldwide cultures who eat insects, and even objections to students learning about the United Nations, proof that these types of attacks are ridiculous and unhinged.

“I should have felt celebrated and should have felt like this is a great year, and honestly it was one of the toughest years I have ever had teaching, not only with my community but with parents questioning every decision I made as well,” Lauritzen told the Boston Globe. “Even after 21 years of teaching, my professional judgment was called into question more this year than it ever has in the past.” Lauritzen has since left Idaho and moved to Illinois, hopefully where her talents are better appreciated. Idaho’s loss is Illinois’ gain.

Lauritzen is still Idaho’s teacher of the year, and she’s still in the running for national teacher of the year. By most accounts, Lauritzen would be deserving of that award, too. If that happens, imagine the embarrassment for Idaho. What should be a celebration turns into another indictment of a state being squeezed by far-right extremists — all while the state’s leaders stand by passively.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened in North Idaho. In September, Boundary County Library director Kimber Glidden announced her resignation, citing far-right religious extremism. The Idaho Way newsletter A weekly roundup of opinions, commentary and your views from around the region.

“Nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community,” Glidden wrote in her announcement posted by the library, according to The Spokesman-Review.

A push by a few parents to ban books with LGBTQ+ themes “snowballed from there,” library board member Lee Colson said. Extremists elected to the West Bonner school board hired the eminently unqualified Branden Durst over an eminently qualified longtime administrator, which has led to good people leaving the district.

Let’s not forget what’s happening with North Idaho College, which has been teetering on the brink of non-accreditation since extremists were elected to a majority on that board, firing their qualified president and hiring a lawyer who’s given them bad legal advice. Although the trend of attacking public schools, schoolteachers and librarians seems to be more acute in North Idaho, it’s happening all over the state and across the country, as right-wing extremists complain — with no basis — that schools and libraries are trying to indoctrinate children. They complain about what they call “pornography,” but what it really comes down to is any material that contains LGBTQ+ content or even characters.

The Meridian Library District was the subject of an effort by a small group of extremists who wanted to dissolve the district because board members wouldn’t abide by their unreasonable demands. Fortunately, that effort never made the ballot, but imagine how librarians in that district must feel, being under attack and vilified, accused of indoctrinating children.

At what point do our state’s leaders start leading, and try to do something about the reputation of the state and the integrity of its institutions? They are quick to make statements and issue press releases owning anything they deem as positive but have absolutely nothing to say when doctors, librarians and educators are driven from the state.

Where is a statement from Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield, decrying how awful this is, that we’ve lost our teacher of the year? Where is something from Gov. Brad Little or Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke? They aren’t part of these extremists, but with their silence, they might as well be. We’d call for a statement from the Idaho Republican Party, but it’s been taken over by these same far-right zealots who ran Lauritzen out of the state. More likely, we’d expect a statement from the party’s state chair, Dorothy Moon, siding with the extremists, applauding the departure of Lauritzen and congratulating Post Falls for losing an extraordinary teacher.

It’s time for Idaho’s leaders to make statements and issue press releases condemning the extremists and their tactics, because they are chasing away some of Idaho’s best and brightest. In Lauritzen’s case, it comes down to misguided, disgruntled parents who don’t want their students to learn about the United Nations being given deference over experienced and talented educators. Our state leaders should be condemning the former and standing up for the latter. Loudly. Their silence speaks volumes.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members Mary Rohlfing and Patricia Nilsson. This story was originally published August 17, 2023, 4:00 AM.

Please leave your comments below.

11 comments to While extremists chase away Idaho teacher of the year, state’s leaders stay silent

  • Tim Hall

    It looks like Idaho is what America was … during the end of the Reconstruction Era (around 1870), when there was strong resistance to public education, because that would contribute to the development of Black citizens. Conservatives were opposed to federal spending, taxation, social programs, and anything that would lead to reducing social and economic and racial inequities. It seems like many of those issues and deep societal conflicts were never resolved.

  • John Stewart

    Horrible news. Sorry to hear it but thanks for sending it.

  • Lee Bolman

    Your situation reminds me of how my wife and I felt as we contemplated leaving Missouri to return to Massachusetts. We were in Kansas City, one of two liberal enclaves (along with St. Louis) that bookend a sea of conservatism (the metaphor is a bit mixed). Now we’re ensconced in what is sometimes referred to as the People’s Republic of Brookline, where any Democrat in elected office has de facto tenure and Biden squeaked by with 87% of the vote in 2020. It’s lovely being surrounded by folks with advanced degrees who agree with us, but would our liberal voice and vote be more consequential if we’d stayed in Missouri?

  • Jim Wechsler

    I wish this surprised me, but I lived in Utah for 30 years. Combine fear and craziness and this is what you get.

  • Bill Weber

    Taking a simplistic approach, I see this story as an outgrowth of the movement begun (or at least augmented by Donald Trump) where we want to believe the dark side of issues and the desire to get those who are out to screw us.

  • Rud Platt

    I join John Stewart in being appalled by the outrage in Idaho and so many other “Red” states (Remember when another crazed Republican made that color a badge of infamy and treason?) How ironic that those also are the states with some of the worst impacts of climate change (although the rest of us are not far behind — but at least we don’t pretend it is a “hoax”!)

    I am sharing this editorial with my extended family which includes many present and former teachers.

  • charles merlis

    How can our fine Republican fellow Yalies stay silent against the Red State Dictatorships and dictators that endorse book banning and attack poll workers and our national institutions. Or is Ron Desantis, tragically a Yale graduate, indicative of what our liberal education has developed. Being for or against the death penalty is policy. Being for or against more restrictive abortion laws is policy. Threatening to kill or maim or hurt those on the other side of those issues from you, goes beyond our country’s values. Attacking the U S legal institutions for indicting and prosecuting Donald Trump is shameful and old Yalies should be speaking out against it when there is so much evidence demanding to be heard. Trump has not yet be found guilty but let a jury and the system decide without declaring the Special Counsel and Judge deranged. Tapes, video tapes, emails, all indicate a good faith belief in Trump’s guilt. ARE THERE PEOPLE IN OUR CLASS WHO ARE NOT DEMOCRATS WHO WILL SPEAK OUT AGAINST TRUMP and the rebirth of George Orwell’s 1984. Or should we organize a book burning on the Old Campus?

  • In the interest of full disclosure, I am a registered Republican. In Idaho if you want your vote to matter, you vote in the Republican primary. Since the days of Frank Church and Cecil Andrus and the passage of “right-to-work” laws, except for a few local pockets, the Rs have it at the ballot box. In 2012, the Idaho Republican party closed its primaries to all but registered Republicans.

  • Ken Merkey

    Can anyone say polarization? Does anyone live in a glass house?

    Firstly, I am disappointed that no one bothered to comment on the last climate change webinar except me. Does no one have any constructive comments on climate change (other than me)?

    I am not a Trump supporter. I don’t like him or his management style. But he sure beats the alternative(s). With full disclosure, I am not a right-wing extremist.

    I am for closed borders with a sane immigration policy.
    I am for energy independence.
    I want a president who spends more time in the office than on vacation in Delaware. He should get to the office before noon and work after 4 pm.
    I think a president should have a press briefing at least once a month.
    I don’t think that we should fill our federal judiciary with racists, miscreants, and activists. The Senate Judiciary committee has rubber stamped every nominee from the White House.
    I don’t think that we should hire a Nina Jankiewicz to manage a disinformation office.
    I don’t know the difference between a cross dresser and a trans person. Would someone tell me why we hired Rachel Levine to be a Vice Admiral in the Health Service?
    I don’t think that men should compete with women in sports. Nor should they share a locker room. If trans folks want to compete, maybe we should have a third event: men, women and other.
    We should not have a panderer for president. This one spends money like there is no tomorrow. Why pay off student loans? How is that fair to all of those who did pay off their loans.?
    Does no one worry about the debt load that we are leaving our progeny? OMB is now estimating that our national debt will exceed $50 Trillion by 2030 (2x GDP).
    Why kill pipelines in the USA and approve them in Europe. (You do know that Putin saw that as a signal to invade Ukraine.)
    We should not be indoctrinating our children in school about CRT and/or gender issues.
    I am thrilled that the mayor of Chicago asked the black guys to please not shoot anyone during daylight hours. Also, please don’t call them rioters.
    I am aghast at the weaponization of the DOJ and the FBI. Do we really need 20-armed SWAT agents to arrest a Catholic father for demonstrating? Are we really going to use the National Security Agency to fight parents at school board meetings?
    And the little man who heads the DOJ learned a trick from Biden. When you want to make an announcement you walk up to the lectern, read the teleprompter, and turn your back on the press corps (just like Biden). We may have seen more of the back of Biden’s head than the front.
    Does anyone really believe that Biden did not assist his son with influence peddling? He even bragged about getting a prosecutor in Ukraine fired by withholding AID funds.
    I note that the GOP in Georgia did not elect a flawed candidate in Herschel Walker. I am aghast at Pennsylvania Democrats electing a Fetterman.
    Mortgage rates are the highest in 30 years. How does a first-time home buyer afford a 7.5% interest rate?
    I could go on, but you get the point (I hope).

    Now to the constructive part:

    Term limits for Congress
    50% nuclear power by 2050

    Nothing else matters.

  • Charles Merlis

    Full disclosure, I am not a left wing extremist. If you will tell me your moderate to left strands, I will tell you my Center to right.
    Ken Merkey: Apparently, you prefer a president spending more time in Golf Resorts around the world than he does in the Oval Office. And at the same time, having taxpayers pay top dollar for his Secret Service Revenue staying at many of Trumps own resorts (Bedminster, New Jersey, Lockerbee, Scotland, etc. Trump was NOT a billionaire BEFORE he became president. He ran several Casinos into bankruptcy and had a well deserved reputation for not paying bills to those who did work for him, etc.
    There are much more transgender males competing against girls than people who are for open borders. The problem is getting Congress to pass laws for a sane immigration based on U S needs and sane policies regulating the border. We cannot take everyone in who needs asylum, however, special allowances should be made for those who helped us in Afghanistan, Syria, etc. BTW, illegal immigration was way up in Trump’s first 3 years and only went down in 2020 due to the pandemic.
    As a lawyer, I feel I understand some of the problems of nominating Judges to the Federal Bench. I believe in transparency and both sides have robbed judicial hearings on nominations of much value. Justices should be required to reveal their judicial philosophy and core beliefs. Their should be a clear Ethical Code for Supreme Court Justices.
    Originally there were 6 Supreme Court Members. The last time the number of Justices was changed (to nine) was 1869. The 1870 Census was just over 38 million people (the firs census that did not have 3/5 of persons in the count). The 2020 Census was around 330,000,000. An increase of almost ninefold. The Supreme Court has too much work for the current nine and their employees. There is much delay in important decisions. Increasing the Court by four should prepare us for the next 150 years. It would not be Court Packing. The country needs more justices. To attempt to make it fair, there should be one new justice added after each of the 4 next Congressional elections. The presidential and congressional candidates can and should campaign on the type of Judge they would nominate and vote for.
    Ken, when you indicate, despite all your claimed distaste for Trump, that you would vote for him rather than Biden, some of your apparent reasons lose strength on examination. You state Biden spends money like there is no tomorrow. Trump added Trillions to the national debt BEFORE the 2020 pandemic. As to paying off some student loans: Trumps tax cuts for the super rich added debt to the country that could have better gone to paying off student loans. With less debt, current young people could pay more in tax to the government and/ or take more lower paying jobs in the economy that are for the general good like teaching in rural areas, etc.
    As to education: There are more non-binary people in the U S than classes in CRT (though I am not sure what either term means). It is such a phony issue and leads to banning books and controlling special interest learning. Should UNCLE TOM’S CABIN be read? It is not a historical book but it had a big influence on US history. It spurred the abolitionist movement and probably hastened the Civil War. Though slavery is a blight on our history and Blacks have reason for anger. Jews have anger for Germany and Ukraine [which assisted Germany during Germany’s march to Stalingrad/St. Petersburg, which included persecution of Jews. It is a testament to the good of Americans for fighting and dying to end slavery and that helps unify America (And a Jew is now president of Ukraine).
    Parenthetically, I hope nobody is for DeSantis. Apart from his attempt to dictate school curricula, his incredibly stupid pronouncement that some good things happened to Blacks in slavery, etc., is his removing elected county district attorneys from office because he disagreed with their politics. That is a fascistic move and I think unconstitutional. Ken, are you aghast at that weaponization of Justice. The County D As are not part of the Florida governor’s administration.
    Do you believe in dictatorship as apparently Trump does. Trump REALLY tried to steal the 2020 election, follow the two relevant indictments in Georgia and Washington. That is why, I feel you are so wrong to feel Trump is a better alternative to ANYBODY. Trump deserves to be in Jail not President.
    Ken, please engage me in debate, and I will go back and explore the climate change webinar and comment.

  • Ken Merkey

    Definition: Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS)

    A syndrome is a recognizable complex of symptoms and physical findings which indicate a specific condition for which a direct cause is not necessarily understood.

    Symptoms: Irritable bowels, night sweats, inflamed perineum, eye twitches, loss of sleep, lack of appetite, grinding of teeth, loss of hair in rare instances.

    Causes: Highly contagious, especially in institutions of higher learning, red cities, union halls, and federal, state, and municipal offices. Lawyers are especially susceptible. Exposure to those affected by TDS can be exasperating as there is no logic to their arguments.

    Effect: Lacking any positive evidence or proof of the progressive, liberal, or DNC policies, the innate reaction is to blame it on Trump. Loss of common sense. Embarrassed by DNC leadership and unable to defend leadership or policies, a common reaction is hysterical aggression towards the right.

    Treatment: None. There have been, however, some instances of conversion to right wing politics after experiencing a carjacking, the rape of a relative, or losing a son killed in a senseless, mismanaged war. A possible remedy would be to buy a small farm in the Midwest and experience a normal life.