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Activist high school student beats incumbent to win Boise school board election

Shiva Rajbhandari turned 18 just days before the election and is likely the only student in state history to serve on the school board

SHARE Activist high school student beats incumbent to win Boise school board election

Shiva Rajbhandari, who is a senior at Boise High, is pictured in June 2022 as he announced his candidacy to become a trustee on the Boise School District’s board of trustees in front of Boise High.

Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

High school senior Shiva Rajbhandari is now an elected official in Boise, having defeated an incumbent school board member to win a seat on the Boise School District board of trustees. The young Idaho activist ran on a platform of pushing back school start times, addressing mental health issues and climate change. 

Rajbhandari turned 18 years old just days before the election, making him just barely eligible to take office as well as vote for the first time. He is well-known in the school district for rallying support for gun control, voting rights and supporting LGBTQ+ youth, as well as environmental issues. As a 15-year-old freshman he organized roughly 75 students to protest Chase Bank’s financing of fossil fuels, according to Boise Weekly.

On election night, Rajbhandari told Teen Vogue he was with friends when he learned that he had won by nearly 2,500 votes over incumbent Steve Schmidt. He says he hopes his two-year term will finally give students more representation on the board.

Schmidt was appointed to the board last fall. After losing his reelection, he described Rajbhandari as an “energized and motivated individual.” Although he said he wishes him well, Schmidt thinks the role of a school board trustee is too often misunderstood.

“I think it will be a time for Shiva to realize that this isn’t a platform for activism,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “This is a platform for understanding big issues and how they affect everybody, regardless of your own personal opinions.”

Schmidt enjoyed support across the political spectrum during the race. Rajbhandari, however, urged Schmidt to disavow the endorsement of the Idaho Liberty Dogs, who he accused of being a hate group.

“My opponent may not be an extremist but he was endorsed by an extremist group and (he) never disavowed it,” Rajbhandari said after the election. He believes this made a difference in the election outcome. 

Rajbhandari was the only challenger to defeat an incumbent in the Sept. 6 school board election. School district records show he is the first student to be elected to the Boise school board and potentially the first in state history.

As the only new member on the board, Rajbhandari will have some extra homework in addition to his regular high school studies. “The school district is large and complex,” Boise School Board trustee Beth Oppenheimer told the Daily News when asked about the learning curve for new board members. “It takes years to fully understand how every piece works and how every decision is made.

However, the other trustees are excited to see what Rajbhandari has to contribute to the school board. “I think it’s a good thing to have a student — especially students, because they’re one of the main stakeholders in Boise public schools,” trustee Andy Hawes said.

Rajbhandari was sworn into office on Sept. 12. Shortly after, he posted a message to his social media: “Today, we made history. I’m excited to be a part of this team to make our schools the best they can be. Thank you, Boise, for making this dream a reality. #EverythingsPossibleBSD”