Citing online publications, Basque Center will not host Idaho Freedom Foundation educational event

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BOISE — The Basque Historic Center in downtown Boise has canceled a contract with the Idaho Freedom Foundation to host an event on school choice and public education next week.

The “Fund Students, Not Systems” rally in support of school choice was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Monday. Hosted by the Freedom Foundation and its nonprofit Idaho Freedom Action, it features speaker Corey DeAngelis, a strong advocate of school choice and critic of public education.

On Wednesday afternoon, when the group announced the cancellation of the Basque Center, it said the rally would instead take place at Foothills Christian Church. DeAngelis, who is the national director of research at the school choice advocacy group, the American Federation for Children, should always be there. His group is organized and funded by the billionaire DeVos family of Amway fame, which includes Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s controversial education secretary, and her husband Dick DeVos, former CEO of Amway.

DeAngelis has also written against COVID-19 policies at school and against teachers’ unions.

Some groups and individuals have criticized the Basque Center for renting space from the Idaho Freedom Foundation for such an event. DeAngelis and his organization want the money diverted from public schools and provided to families whose children wish to enroll in a private or charter school, or participate in some other form of non-public education. When such a school choice bill was introduced in the Idaho Legislature in 2021, opponents pointed out that Idaho already had the worst education funding per student in the nation. .

“He will advocate for policies that empower students and their families to pursue the method of education that works best for them,” the IFF’s website for the event reads.

For two days this week, Basque Center leaders appeared to resist calls to cancel the event and said the rental contract was no indication of support.

“The Basque Center rents the facility in a non-discriminatory manner and it should never be inferred that it supports or does not support any activity, cause, group, individual, ideology or philosophy,” the official Facebook page said. from the center in a press release. comment.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which is led by its president, Wayne Hoffman, wrote on Wednesday that its contract with the center “has been unexpectedly terminated due to threatening social media posts from left-wing activists and organizations. . The venue had been made aware of social media posts from these radical groups promising disruption, and building managers feared their facilities could be damaged by protesters.

Ed Orbea, chairman of the Basque Centre’s board of directors, confirmed that fears about damage to buildings, member safety and “disruptive influences” led to the cancellation.

“We’re a 70-year-old entity, and it’s a historic building,” Orbea said. “You know, we have to keep our members safe, our building safe, public safety.”

Orbea said he became concerned after seeing “various social media posts” from those planning to attend the rally. Orbea declined to identify specific messages.

A search by Idaho Statesman found no social media posts about the rally suggesting physical threats to the building or any members of the center. There were messages encouraging those who support public education to attend. Political advocacy group Idaho 97 Project appears to have posted the only social media post to which the Basque Center responded publicly.

“Are you sick of IFF and Idaho lawmakers trying to destroy our public education system?” the Idaho 97 project wrote in one of its Facebook posts about the event. “Here’s your chance to tell them that: book your tickets to the IFF Education rally and tell them and all the lawmakers showing how you really feel about their efforts to destroy public education in Idaho. “

Orbea said he was unaware from the start of the type of event the Freedom Foundation was planning.

“Without going into all the details, at the time of rental they identified that they would be hosting a reception,” Orbea said.

Some online commentators suggested the need for funds was the reason the Basque Center allowed the space to be reserved, but Orbea said money was “not an issue”. He stressed that the Basque Center does not refuse rental contracts because of politics, calling it an “equal opportunity tenant”.

The center does not have a written policy regarding rentals for political events, Orbea said, and the original decision to rent to the Freedom Foundation was based on how the center has operated in the past.

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