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The Wyoming Library Association is critical of Degenfelder’s highlighted policy examples

In a publicly released letter, Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder addressed the ongoing school library controversy, writing, "I began addressing the issue by including the topic in the Wyoming Department of Education’s (WDE) strategic plan.” In that plan, Degenfelder included policy suggestions for how local school districts can handle certain situations.

The personal statement by Degenfelder was followed by a document titled “Establishing or Modifying Library Material Policy”. That includes who can influence library policy, how, and five key sections: “Definitions”, “Material Selection Process”, “Prohibited Content Provision”, “Individual Opt-out and/or Opt-In Process” and “Reconsideration Process”. While the five sections are relatively broad in their wording, there are examples of implemented and unimplemented policy changes by various school districts throughout the state.

The Wyoming Library Associations (WLA) applauded the efforts to keep this a locally debated issue but have been one of the most vocal critics of some of the highlighted policy changes that the WDE chose to include in the document.

“Degenfelder did say she wanted to help librarians remove guesswork. But there isn't a way to remove guesswork with subjective language,” said Darcy Acord, a representative of the WLA and a librarian at the Campbell County Library System.

Acord is referring to a content-based rating system created by Park County School District #1. The policy suggests a Level One to Level Five content rating. Books could be requested to be reviewed by parents, and would then be ranked on their level of “violence, profanity, nudity, sexuality,” and “gender ideologies”. Any books found to be Level Five would be immediately removed from the school library.

“The problem with rating systems such as these is that they don't take into account the depth of information that schools and particularly school libraries are tasked with trying to present to their students. It also doesn't take into account the work as a whole,” said Acord.

The WLA also noted their concerns with an example laid out in the “Sample Individual Opt-In and/or Out Process” section. Here, the document presented an expert of policy from Laramie County School District #1, which is still in the drafting phase. The policy would give parents and guardians the power to implement specific check-out options for their respective students. The check out options consist of “Open Access” in which a student(s) is free to check out any book, “No Access to Materials Containing Sexually Explicit Content” which prevents a student(s) from checking out books with content deemed explicit by school policy, “Parent/Guardian Limited Access” which limits a student(s) to a specified list of books created by parents (with the option of assistance from school staff in creating that list) and “No Access” which denies the student(s) the ability to check out any book from the school library.

The WLA found an opt-in policy like this to be potentially curtailing a student's access to information. The WLA suggested an opt-out policy as an alternative that can spring forth relevant discussion.

“That's where we start to see diminished access to resources. And the Wyoming Library Association strongly encourages opt-out policies where parents can have those conversations with their school, with their school librarian, about their own individual children,” said Acrod.

The conversations between school librarians and parents are important in avoiding the “underlying assumption that school librarians are somehow promoting materials onto students,” said Acord.

She explained that librarians are professionally trained to curate a selection of books, not tell students which books they should or should not read. She believes that the benefit of a trained guide to literature provides a safer environment to learn ideas in as opposed to children and students seeking out ideas through unsupervised sources like the internet and through social media.

“There isn't anybody who's curating and vetting and making sure that it's credible information [on parts of the internet],” said Acord. “One thing about the books is that, if they are on the shelves, if they're going through reputable publishers, they are being vetted, they are being professionally reviewed and that information is credible, reliable information.”

Acord emphasized that communities can discuss the worries they have around their children encountering controversial topics head on by having open and honest discussions. Not just with lawmakers, administrators, teachers and libraries, but most importantly, with their own children.

“Parents should not be afraid, should not be hesitant to have conversations with their school librarians. And to recognize that it's not only necessary to have those conversations with their school librarians and teachers, but also with their own individual children to discuss their particular family's values and viewpoints. And to take that kind of responsibility, not abdicate that kind of responsibility,” said Acord.

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.
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