Boise’s first student school board member is headed to college. What happens to his seat?

Like most college freshmen, Shiva Rajbhandari has been thrust into a whirlwind of orientation, making new friends and figuring out classes.

Unlike most classmates, he is also a sitting school board member back in his hometown.

Rajbhandari became the first student ever elected to the Boise School Board when he beat the incumbent by nearly 2,500 votes last September to win a two-year seat.

Before the election, some people expressed concern that it would be difficult for Rajbhandari to continue his duties after he graduated from Boise High in spring 2023.

He told the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board that he hoped to have another student replace him before college. If that didn’t happen, he said, he would find a way to make it work by either taking a gap year or attending meetings virtually.

Rajbhandari made the decision this spring to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he says he will double major in public policy and math. He arrived on campus Saturday.

“I looked at the cost, the programs that I was interested in and the amount of mentorship I got,” Rajbhandari told the Idaho Statesman on Thursday by phone. “Chapel Hill had all three of those things.”

He plans to remain on the school board by attending meetings virtually.

Key issues in Shiva Rajbhandari’s platform included mental health, climate change and extremism. Darin Oswald/
Key issues in Shiva Rajbhandari’s platform included mental health, climate change and extremism. Darin Oswald/

Board president expresses concern

School Board President Dave Wagers expressed “concern” to the Idaho Press about Rajbhandari’s ability to “adequately serve” from North Carolina.

“I think that one of the lessons we learned during the pandemic was that while some things can be done remotely, there’s no substitute for being in the classroom,” Wagers told the Press.

Wagers did not answer the Statesman’s questions about Rajbhandari, saying by email that he was out of town.

Rajbhandari agreed with the president.

“I think Dave is 1,000% correct,” Rajbhandari said. “There is no substitute for being in the classroom. And not a single other trustee has been in a Boise School District classroom as a student for the last 20 years.”

The recent graduate said this was why he fought to change the school board’s policy to allow a current student to take his place.

The effort proved challenging. Rajbhandari was one of the few Boise high school students who was 18 — the minimum age required by Idaho law to be elected into office — when the election took place on September 6. He will turn 19 on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

He worked with students across the district to draft a policy proposal that would have allowed a younger student to be elected by the student body and then appointed by the board.

“Not a single other trustee would support this policy, which was pretty disappointing,” he said. “It wouldn’t even be brought to a public vote.”

Wagers told the Press that Rajbhandari’s proposal bypassed Idaho law and made it so a student would not have to be publicly elected.

“Ultimately, trustees are held accountable by our patrons through the transparency of elections and not through appointment or status,” Wagers said.

Rajbhandari’s move across the country isn’t the first time he’s caused controversy on the board. He sparked headlines in April when he issued a profane tweet criticizing Idaho Gov. Brad Little for signing a law banning gender-affirming care for Idaho youths who identify as transgender and nonbinary. He later deleted the tweet, apologized and agreed to step down from the board’s governance committee.

For now, Rajbhandari plans to continue serving from his tiny dorm room. He said he is still a Boise resident and will spend his holidays and summers here. He’s already dreaming of getting back to fishing and skiing as soon as he returns.

Until then, he says he’ll do just fine as a virtual board member.

“I would point to the fact that I have attended every single school board meeting since my election, even while others have not,” Rajbhandari said. “So I am confident that I will be able to continue to serve to the best capacity that I can.”