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New WDE library guideline addresses LCSD1 concerns

File; Trevor T. Trujillo, Cap City

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Today, Wyoming education leaders released a guideline for establishing or modifying school library materials. It’s a topic that resonates deeply with some Laramie County School District 1 community members.

In a press conference today, Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said the 13-page guideline — which includes sample definitions for “sexually explicit content” and reading material on “controversial issues” — is supposed to act as a resource for school districts to use as they collaborate with their community to create “appropriate” library policies.

“We are meant to be a resource agency, not a regulatory agency, and that is exactly what we’ll be in this case,” Degenfelder said.

The guide was curated by a statewide stakeholder group, including librarians, teachers, parents, administrators, district and state school board members and business leaders. LCSD1 trustee Christy Klaassen, Cheyenne parent Kathy Scigliano and local businessman Jeff Wallace were among the committee members.

Included in the appendix of the guidelines are excerpts of existing library polices taken from various school districts, including LCSD1’s current “opt-out” policy, where parents can access their child’s library account and opt them out of reading certain books, topics or authors, and its prohibited content provision policy. Many Wyoming school districts have yet to establish thorough library material policies, according to the guidelines, and the examples are meant to serve as a reference.

For the past two years, some parents have expressed anger and concern toward the LCSD1 Board of Trustees over what they call a number of “inappropriate and sexually explicit” books found in the district’s libraries.

The concerned parents want the trustees to replace this policy with an “opt-in” one instead, making most library books off-limits for students unless they obtain parental consent. The Wyoming Families for Freedom and other LCSD1 community members, however, referred to this concept as a “book ban” and held local town halls in support of the original policy. In protest of a proposed “opt-in” policy recently drafted by the board of trustees, more than 30 community members attended their Oct. 23 meeting and read banned books in silence, as reported by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

The local dispute echoes a larger conversation in the state over what books should be accessible to K–12 students, particularly when it comes to reading material regarding LGBTQ+, gender identity and sexually explicit and graphic content. In August, the Natrona County School District adopted a new opt-in/opt-out procedure for its school libraries to provide parents and guardians with more control over the learning materials their children have access to. The debate has reached even public libraries, as earlier this year, Terri Lesley was fired from her position as Campbell County Public Library librarian following a two-year disagreement over removing certain books.