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The Natrona County School Board votes to keep books but will allow for parental opt-ins

Natrona County Schools logo
Natrona County Schools

The Natrona County School Board voted 8-1 to keep two books in one of the district’s high school libraries on Nov. 28. However, they did decide to implement an opt-in option for parents. The board, also approved adding onto their opt-in policy that will create stricter requirements for purchasing controversial materials in the future.

The parental opt-in allows parents some say in what content their children consume at school, such as movies of a certain rating that some parents may not approve of. The school has not allowed R-rated movies to be shown in school without parental consent so the board is introducing that idea with books that contain imagery consistent with R-rated movies.

A book review committee decided they should keep the books “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in Kelly Walsh library’s collection in September. Some members of the community filed an appeal regarding that decision leading the school board to take a vote on it at their Monday meeting.

Board trustee Kianna Smith voted against keeping the books but explained her decision as having to do with the parental opt-in option and not the content of the books themselves.

“I don't agree with the decision to adopt the opt-in procedures,” she explained. “We currently have opt-out procedures and I believe that those are sufficient, and our high school librarians provided some input for how they would make that better so that parents were more aware of the fact that they had that option and how to utilize it. And I think that that is the direction that we should have taken.”

Smith said she had concerns about the implications of what an opt-in option could lead to at some point.

“I think that going to an opt-in system could maybe create problems in the future,” she said. “I don't know but I personally would prefer a vote that just simply upheld the decision of the reconsideration committee with no other conditions.”

More than a dozen attendees gave public comment to the board, which included current students, teachers, and parents of students, most of which were supportive of keeping the books in the library.

“Several years ago, when I first told my classmates that I was trans, most of them were confused, they didn't understand the concept of gender transition,” said student Victor Marcos. “It is [a] fairly simple idea, and I think nearly anyone could understand it if they had the information that is. I believe that students should have access to information on all different types of people in order to understand their peers.”

Marcos continued to say that having access to information about LGBTQ students helps students with certain misconceptions to understand the community better.

“A lack of understanding can lead to harm in so many cases. Last year, one of my classmates claimed that the concept of a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) Club was the same as a communism club,” Marcos said. “I don't think this would have happened if he had access to education of queer people under different views and beliefs. I think there's a difference between something being taboo and something being hidden.”

Alex Petrino who is a parent of a student and licensed professional counselor said banning booking is leading some students to worry about not having trustworthy adults to turn to about sensitive topics.

“They've shared the significant negative impact that this has had on them and their well-being as well as their future relationships,” she said. ”When we as adults take away access to information, refuse to have uncomfortable conversations, speak to our students with judgment and disdain and don't encourage curiosity with our students, we are signaling to them that we are untrustworthy.”

The topic of suicide was also brought up by several members of the public saying a lack of available resources for the LGBTQ community leads to an increase in suicide and self-harm among this population.

However, there was also support for removing the books in attendance.

“What many of us in this community are looking for is to remove sexually explicit content from books in a school library,” said Renea Redding, a member of the local Moms for Liberty group, a conservative organization. “How is sexual content prepar[ing] kids for the future? How do these books make trustworthy adults? When you're looking at a book that contains an adult on child sexual acts, why aren't parents included in this conversation?”

Some parents and members of the community began attending school board meetings about a year ago with demands that specific books be removed from the Kelly Walsh library which they claimed were pornographic and sexually explicit in nature.

“Parents need to be included in this, parents always should be included in it,” Redding said. “They are the parents of their children, it's their decision. Yes, sexual content or anything related to sex does not belong in schools, limiting areas and sex is exactly what needs to be limited. Sexually explicit content does not belong in a school district that is meant to teach academics. ”

Jenifer Hopkins and Mary Schmidt, two members of the Moms for Liberty groupwon election to the school board on Nov. 8. New board members will be sworn in at the next board meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.

Updated: December 1, 2022 at 3:38 PM MST
This story has been amended to remove the word 'controversial' from the headline and to add a link to the district's existing controversial materials policy.
Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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