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WDE, stakeholder group releases guide for school library materials policies

The Wyoming Department of Education has released guidance for establishing or changing library materials policies.

Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder addresses questions during a news conference Nov. 1. (Zoom)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Department of Education has released guidance for establishing or changing library materials policies through the 2023–2027 WDE Strategic Plan.

The guidance is not a legal mandate or legal advice, Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said in a letter previewing the policy recommendations. Wyoming stakeholders including librarians, teachers, parents, administrators and district and state school board members created the guidance, which provides examples of library material policies across the state to help school districts create their own. The state will continue to provide resources as more districts create 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 in a news conference this afternoon.

The guidance is supposed to help school district libraries, not public libraries, have a collaborative process with their community and have transparency, she said. The stakeholder committee did not always agree with her or each other.

The committee members consisted of the following individuals:

Next, a stakeholder group of librarians will evaluate how to support other librarians through training and resources and ensure district policies are met and that parents feel involved in understanding the procurement process, she said.

At a time when test scores are lagging and only a fraction of our students are proficient at grade level in reading and math, our schools need to get back to the basics. The challenges that young people face are myriad, and our teachers and administrators work hard every day. They go beyond the call of duty to ensure that our students are supported and ready to learn.

Schools are also the one place where parents cede their responsibility of their kids to the government, and typically with no choice in where to send them. Our schools must respect the covenant that relationship implies and not violate the values or contradict the reasonable standards that many parents are trying to instill at home. If schools stay in their lane, focus on the 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. I am committed in this effort to increasing trust and confidence in our public schools. That is what this guidance is meant to accomplish.

— Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder

Unterseher said she hopes that with the release of the guidance, the conversation around collection development will revolve around local control.

Jacobs said the guidance will be valuable to district administrators, librarians, school boards and stakeholders throughout the state for guidance on “protecting children from obscene and inappropriate material” while still allowing for local control.

The document and a linked drive include definitions of “sexually explicit.”

Degenfelder said in her letter that she, as an individual, believes any school library material policy should forbid “sexually explicit materials” from being in K–12 schools, ensure parents have the right to restrict access to any material they find inappropriate for their child and provide maximum transparency of materials, books and curricula. The policy should not be used as a tool to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and parents should communicate concerns as close as possible to the material of concern. For example, they might speak with the teacher, school librarian or principal instead of immediately contacting the full school board.

“When necessary to escalate the conversation to the school board, attempt to begin voicing your concerns in a one-on-one meeting with a trustee and, if necessary, eventually to the entire board,” she said.

“When I campaigned across the state of Wyoming for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, there were few issues that I heard about more from citizens than concerns about inappropriate materials and books in schools,” Degenfelder said. “There is absolutely no room in the classroom for inappropriate materials or influences. We must protect our children and we must protect public education.”