Shiva Rajbhandari, an 18-year-old high school senior, just made history in Boise, Idaho. He’s the first student to ever serve on the Boise School District Board of Trustees. His interest in pursuing a spot on the board started years ago while working to improve environmental conditions and fight climate change.
“I sent a letter to my school board president, who’s now my colleague,” he told Inside Edition Digital. “I detailed their efforts, asked for a meeting. But I didn’t get a response back immediately from the school board president. I know he read the letter because about a week later I was called into my principal’s office and I was reprimanded for reaching out to the board.
“It felt as though we as students were not being seen as constituents,” he continued. “As if we were unqualified to have a stake in what’s going on in our schools. As if we weren’t the primary stakeholders in our education. It was just frustrating. It felt like student voices weren’t being taken seriously.”
Rajbhandari’s was also motivated to run so he could stand up for his school’s teachers.
“And I remember one day walking into English class and we had an assignment, and half of it was blacked out with Sharpie,” he said. “It was because my teacher felt intimidated. It was because she didn’t feel like she could teach what she taught in previous years. And that shows a lack of support from the district. And so that’s another thing that motivated my decision to run.”
In addition to making history for being the first student to be elected to the board, Rajbhandari made waves when he beat out a candidate endorsed by a local far-right group. Rajbhandari noted that although the candidate, Steve Schmidt, is not an extremist himself, he didn’t refuse the endorsement.
“He was repeatedly asked to disavow this endorsement and he refused to,” he said. “And he made a point of refusing to disavow this far-right endorsement.”
“I remember in ninth grade when I first really got involved with climate activism, we organized a rally downtown in Boise,” Rajbhandari said. “This group came to our rally with AR-15s. So there we are ninth graders fighting for a livable future, and there are these people dressed in military gear, some of them were dressed up like police, although they weren’t, and they had AR-15s. They were just standing there watching our protest. I mean, that was terrifying. And it’s terrifying living in a community that is really surrounded on all sides by folks like these.”
In a statement to Boise Weekly, Schmidt said he wanted to represent all parents even if he disagrees with their political views.
“I have support from people from all sides including the Idaho Liberty Dogs, Democrats, and the Boise Education Association, which has endorsed me,” Schmidt said. “I recognize as a trustee I need to make decisions for students across the spectrum regardless of their parent’s beliefs and ideologies and I will continue to represent them whether they agree or not with my personal ideologies.
“I am not an Idaho Liberty Dog member,” he added. “I’m also not the most extreme liberal. I’m not running this campaign as a Democrat or Republican. I am running as an engineer and a dad.”
Even before being elected to the Board of Trustees, Rajbhandari had a long list of responsibilities. He is a student, he works, runs cross country and is the director of BABE VOTE, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voter advocacy organization. They register locals to vote and support various events around town.
“Voting rights, climate action, and youth empowerment, they all go hand in hand,” Rajbhandari said. “These are intersectional issues. And I think it’s the same with LGBTQ+ rights. My election is about representation, it’s about everybody deserves a seat at the table. And we make the best decisions when there is a diversity in backgrounds.”
Rajbhandari said the job of the school board is to be an accountability piece for parents and patrons of the school district. And they are there when people have concerns or want to change something in the schools.
He plans on serving for a year and hopes another student can take over when he leaves for college. Once out of high school, he wants to study environmental law.
“With the last four years as a climate activist, I’ve seen how powerful litigation can be in defending communities that are at the forefront of the climate crisis and other environmental crises that we’re facing, and defending the planet, which we all live on,” he said.
Until then, Rajbhandari hopes that with his and other student’s influence, Boise works towards making improvements.
“The vast majority of Boisians agree that extremism has no place in our schools,” he said. “That we need to prioritize mental health, we need to support our teachers, we need to take action on climate change. These are things that Boisians agree with. In a community where we really built this sense that student’s voices matter, that we can change the world when we all work together.”