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Local town hall addresses LCSD1 book policy

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some community members are concerned that a proposed change to Laramie County School District 1’s library policy will restrict students’ access to books.

Dozens gathered at a Tuesday night town hall at the Unitarian Universalist Church to learn more about the district’s “opt-in” system for school libraries and recent efforts to undermine it. The meeting was hosted by Wyoming Families for Freedom, a coalition of community members advocating for educators, books and the First Amendment, according to the organization’s website.

Under LCSD1’s current “opt-out” policy, parents can access their child’s library account and opt them out of reading certain books, topics or authors. Attempts to change this policy and reduce access to controversial books have been a topic of debate in Cheyenne.

During a July 2022 LCSD1 Board of Trustees meeting, some parents voiced their anger and concerns over the number of “inappropriate”and sexually explicit books found in the LCSD1 libraries.” They recommended the district create an “opt-in” option that would require students to get parental approval before reading such books. On the other side of the debate, during an August 2022 trustee meeting, LCSD1 community members encouraged the district to keep the opt-out policy, referring to the restrictions as a “book ban.”

Most recently at a February work session, the board of trustees asked LCSD1 staff to come up with three things: a definition of “sexually explicit,” as well as a list of reading material that would fall under that category; a proposed “opt-in” system; and plans to make the current opt-out system more user-friendly. The LCSD1 Board of Trustees will discuss these topics again during its June 5 meeting.

During Tuesday’s town hall, Suzan Skaar, a supporter of Wyoming Families for Freedom and a school librarian for 35 years, said librarians curate books that are “reflective of all their students and of all communities.” Books that address “tough topics” can be written in age-appropriate ways, she said.

Skaar, who worked in LCSD1, said she disagrees with the “opt-in” policy. There are already district-run websites and tools readily available for parents who wish to utilize the “opt-out” policy, she said. As a librarian, Skaar said she has received backlash for allowing students access to certain books.

“When I became a librarian I never imagined I would one day be accused of being a pedophile or groomer because of the books I’ve carefully selected for the library’s collection,” she said during the town hall.

Former LCSD1 board trustee Marguerite Herman said the district is responsible for abiding by parents’ curated lists of books for their kids, which is why the “opt-out” policy is effective.

“It’s a wide world out there and anyone with a smartphone has access to books,” she said during the meeting, “but at least on school property, it’s the school’s responsibility to carry out the parent’s desire to curate the books their students read.”

Not every parent knows how to use the policy, she said. Like Skaar, Herman said parents should consult with librarians or trusted sources for a list of appropriate reading material, instead of pushing to restrict access to all books.

“When used properly and to the full extent, [the policy] gives parents a great deal of control,” she said.

Marcy Kindred, a Wyoming Families for Freedom organizer, said she encourages everyone at the town hall to help the organization reject the “opt-in” policy. Community members can call or send postcards to Board of Trustees members regarding their concerns. Most importantly, Kindred said, people can show up at the June 5 meeting and speak during the public comment period.

“Wyoming is for freedom,” she said during the meeting. “This will not happen on our watch.”

                                       


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