© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Superintendent Degenfelder says she’ll advocate for parents and local communities to address school library controversy

Wyoming Superintendent Megan Degenfelder host an online press conference.
WPR - Jordan Uplinger
W.D.E Media Stream
Wyoming Superintendent Megan Degenfelder host an online press conference.

The Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder is focusing on a nationwide debate around school libraries, banning books with material deemed explicit, and parents’ input in their children’s public schools. Degenfelder made two public appearances in which she clarified her opinion on the subject, both as a Wyoming citizen and as a public figure.

“When did protecting our children become so controversial?” Degenfelder said to a panel of representatives on the House Committee for Education and Work in Washington D.C. She brought a copy of the book Let's Talk About It, a graphic novel about sexuality and relationships aimed at teens as an example of one of the many books brought to her attention by parents during her campaign travels.

Degenfelder spoke as part of a panel of parental activists, legal experts, and authors and was outspoken in her support for parents who have tried to prevent books with explicitly sexual themes from being made available to children in school libraries. She said, “We must understand that schools are temporary custodians. They do not have free reign. Our parents do not cede their rights and responsibilities at the schoolhouse door.”

“Why do parents have to opt in for field trips and medical care but not sexually explicit materials?'' Degenfelder asked the House Committee during her statement. Degenfelder expressed support for local communities, schools and parents and against giving more control of these issues to politicians or government agencies. Degenfelder instead opted for forming groups of Wyoming residents and leaders to help communities decide what is and isn’t appropriate in school libraries.

“My approach at the state level has become working with stakeholder groups to create statewide library guidance to be released in the coming weeks with sample definitions, model policy and allowing for a transparent public process,” Degenfelder told the committee.

Then on November 1, Degenfelder held a press conference to release her proposed plan.

“The guidance document includes best practices on steps to develop a library policy, key components within that policy as well as sample language from districts across the state,” said Degenfelder at the press conference. “This document and resources released today are only the beginning, and we will continue to update with different robust policies that are created around the state.”

She also said that, to help ensure policies are carried out and local members are involved, Degenfelder is moving to create a librarian committee of sorts. “The next step will be to form a stakeholder group of librarians in order to evaluate how to support [parents, schools, and teachers] through training and resources, and to ensure that their district policies are met, and that parents feel involved in understanding of the procurement process” said Degenfelder.

Degenfelder says she believes that schools will cooperate with this policy because they “respect the covenant” relationship between parents and schools and that these policies will help state education in the long run.

“If schools stay in their lane, focus on fundamentals and produce students with skills and knowledge to succeed into adulthood, then it will be a lot easier for us to convince communities to approve school budgets, teacher pay increases and recruit great teachers to the classroom“ said Degenfelder.

Since many of the complaints directed toward books on library shelves come from individual parents, she said defining “inappropriate” or “too sexual” becomes subjective. When pressed on how she would define the term, Degenflelder said, “The definition of ‘sexually explicit’ is a difficult one, as we've seen. In court cases, all the way to the Supreme Court, as we know from Justice Stewart, who famously said, ‘I know it when I see it,’ which I know that many of us can relate to.”

Opponents of Degenfelder’s views on education have been just as vocal. Some have said the book controversy was more accurately labeled as a First Amendment issue like Dr. Jonathan Friedmen. Friedman, who works with PEN-American, a nonprofit organization focused on freedom of expression, as well as a parent of two kids, was on the House Committee panel with Degenfelder. Friedman said advocates like Degenfelder are “limiting access to certain ideas” and “challenging half-century old free-speech laws.”

“A fundamental freedom that belongs to us all is being misunderstood, misrepresented and twisted,” said Friedmen.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.
Related Content