CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Inside the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees meeting room, a sea of red shirts and sweaters crowded every seat. Family members and members of the public huddled at the back of the room and by the door entrance. Dozens more people idled in the lobby of the Storey Gymnasium, standing together or sitting in front of two TV sets that were broadcasting the board meeting live.
Many community members, especially those wearing red, held up signs.
“Protect Kids From Explicit Sexual Content,” many posters read. Several other people, most wearing red shirts, had posters of an American with text brandished over the stars and stripes. It stated: “Vote Yes … Protect Kids From Age-Appropriate Content … Preserve Parents’ Rights In Educational Decision-Making … Promote Academics Above Worldview Indoctrination”
“Silent Majority Supports Proposed Book Policy!” a man in the back had hand-written on a sign.
Hundreds of people were present at Monday night’s school district board of trustees meeting, many in support or defiance of the governing body’s policy change to its library services. A noticeable number of individuals wore red shirts to signify their support of the new policy change, which the board was set to vote on at the meeting. Those opposed to the amendment wore purple to signify their opposition.
The new library policy has been a contentious topic of discussion for community members throughout the fall. During the amendment’s public comment period, more than 1,500 comments were submitted to the board of trustees’ BoardDocs web page. According to an analysis from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, around 78% of the comments were against adopting the library services policy. Nevertheless, four board members ultimately voted to pass the policy, while two members voted against.
The new policy makes changes to the district’s opt-in/opt-out policy so parents and guardians have additional options for restricting certain materials for their child. If the governing body determines the book contains material that meets its definition of “sexually explicit,” then the material will be removed from elementary schools and placed in junior high schools under a section called “Library Materials Containing Sexually Explicit Library Content.”
The public comment section kicked off Monday’s meeting, with 20 people slated to speak for three minutes each. Parents, students, grandparents, teachers — both current and retired — librarians and even a pastor and attorney provided statements during the public comment period, which lasted more than an hour.
Overall, 12 community members who signed up expressed opposition to the new policy, while eight people vocalized their support. Here is what speakers said, reasons why they were for or against the library services changes and how community members reacted.
Support for the policy changes
The eight speakers who supported the library policy changes generally expressed that the amendment promoted a family’s right to choose how to control their children. In particular, several speakers spoke to the notion that if books contained inappropriate material, then parents have a say in how that content should be regulated.
Others stated that the current opt-out policy is too cumbersome and not enough for parents, especially guardians who don’t have the time to explore an extensive range of library material.
“Parents raise children, not governments,” one man told the school district governing body. “If in any school any of the books or material are considered questionable, controversial, pornographic, ideological, then the parents should be able to decide the appropriateness of such materials for their own children.”
Another man said that school is a diverse environment that requires regulation in order to function.
Several speakers suggested that inaction on library policy regulation is part of a partisan agenda to indoctrinate children. As one mother stated, she is tired of having the same conversation on the topic, stating that 65% of childrens’ reading and writing skills are below average in Laramie County.
“Why are we allowing certain beliefs and agendas to be pushed on our children instead of teaching them love and pride of their country and basic life skills?” the mother said to the board of trustees. “We have teachers who are openly pushing, teaching and celebrating socialism and communism in our classrooms, and yet our children cannot read or write in cursive. … We don’t need agendas, explicit materials around libraries or indoctrination of our children.”
A local attorney, speaking over a video call, elaborated more on the mother’s point about reading and writing skills and indoctrination. He stated that trustees have a responsibility to protect children from indoctrination and that test scores have plummeted. He added that if the board is sued for its policy decision, then those lawsuits are frivolous with no legal basis.
Community members, including the attorney, continually suggested throughout Monday night’s meeting that pornographic content can be found in school libraries. When several speakers contested the idea that pornography doesn’t exist in schools, members of the audience groaned or scoffed. At one point when a speaker stated “there is just no pornography in our schools,” the audience erupted in laughter.
Others in the audience attested to the attorney’s claim about indoctrination. Later in the evening when a 10th-grade girl stated “censorship is occurring all over the U.S.” most of the audience erupted in cheers, while a select few “boos” cut through the noise. A man could be heard saying the words “indoctrination” and “brainwash.”
Finally, many people employed religious rhetoric to frame their arguments. One father said he has talked with Christian parents who say the contents of material in the school library go against their scripture. The attorney stated that certain authors didn’t exist in the school library because they were Christian books. Others quoted from verses in the Bible to try and bolster their arguments.
Perhaps the most striking statements from someone who identified as religious came from a local pastor. He said he was deeply concerned about the state of Wyoming, state of the country and state of children.
“Virtue must be upheld, especially when it comes to sex,” the pastor said. “God made sex — He made sex between one man and one woman within the confines of marriage.”
Following this statement, several people in the audience clapped, with one man yelling “Amen.”
Opposition to the policy changes
Members of the community who openly opposed the new library regulations presented various arguments, saying that they believed the changes were unneeded, poorly written or even outright harmful to educational institutions or even democracy.
Numerous speakers said that the current policy works to meet the needs of the community. They also say that time would be better spent devoting resources and time to other more pressing issues.
Some said that the arguments to remove or label books as being age-inappropriate are overblown. For instance, one speaker said that a few paragraphs of difficult and uncomfortable material should not discredit the totality of a piece of literature.
Others who oppose the policy say its regulations are rickety and would be difficult to implement. For instance, the definition of “sexually explicit content” was brought into question, with several individuals saying it is ambiguous and highly subjective.
On a separate topic, one mom stated that the board has not made clear the district committee review process for materials nominated as potentially inappropriate. Furthermore, the mother raised workload concerns for librarians and classroom teachers, who would be responsible for cataloging and tracking material for alleged content that is sexually explicit.
The mother added that more than two-thirds of the 1,500 comments online were against the new policy. She cited this fact to challenge claims that a “silent majority” of policy supporters exist in the community.
“I can’t help but wonder why the supposed majority apparently chose to remain silent and abstain from voicing their opinions during the public comment period on an issue that they feel is so critically important,” the mother said.
Another speaker, a former student and mother to two LCSD1 students, said she had spoken with current and former educators. School staff unanimously told her the proposed change “would be a nightmare,” she said.
“They feel unseen and that their education in their fields is being disrespected,” she said. “We need to have faith in them for their profession.”
Turning to more dire consequences the policy may present, the former student stated that Texas has the most books banned in the U.S. and that the state has the third lowest literacy rate. According to the American Library Association, Texas attempted to censor more than 1,100 books between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31. The U.S. Department of Education also has public data on every state’s literacy and numeracy skills. Texas routinely performed in the bottom five for each in scores from 2012, 2014 and 2017.
Several speakers used their time at the mic not just to disparage the proposed policies but to caution listeners. For instance, a former librarian stated that the policy “is not legitimate legislation. This is an exercise in dehumanization. Why would you want to strip from our young people the very essence of what it means to be human?”
A father to a student discussed his time in Berlin this past summer and that he encountered memorials featuring banned books during the Nazi Regime, among other historical mementos.
“That day taught me that the environment that leads to the censorship of books is on a straight path to crushing war and the systematic kidnapping and murder of 6 million innocent human beings,” the man said.
Another speaker, a member of the Cheyenne Teachers Education Association, employed similar language in his speech. He stated that members of the association unanimously oppose the policy, adding that its purpose isn’t about protecting kids but is part of a “national political agenda” to exercise political power.
Near the end of the public comment time, a 10th grader in LCSD1 spoke passionately about the issue.
“What are you here to do?” the 10th grader said. “It’s not to tell me how to read and what to read. That much is certain.”
The 10th grader argued that the new policy only achieves in granting one family the power to prevent all students from accessing the wealth of knowledge of different cultures, ideas and worldviews. Teachers, she said, use books to show students realities and history they can’t experience or understand in their immediate surroundings. Using an example, she said that Black Americans are constantly in fear of police brutality and that racism, discrimination and sexual assault are facts of life she would not have known about without books.
“Oh please,” one man said. Throughout the teenager’s speech, several audience members mumbled and groaned.
“Censorship is occurring all over the U.S. with policies like this one,” the student said. “Whether you have intended to or not, this policy will increasingly ban these books. So think about the realistic impact that this will have on us.”
To read more about how each board member voted and what Wyoming organizations, schools, library systems and the state superintendent of public instruction are responding to library policies, click here.