By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A picture of Thermopolis students participating in an air rifle program caused some controversy online after it went viral last week, prompting the Hot Springs County School District No. 1 to remove the photo from social media.
Last week, the district shared a photo of some fifth- and sixth- grade students from Thermopolis Middle School working on their marksmanship with air rifles.
“Mr. Deromedi’s 5/6th PE classes are working on their marksmanship with air rifles!” the now-deleted post stated. “All students passed their safety test and have been sharpening their skills.”
Without explaining why the school district removed the post, Superintendent Dustin Hunt said he regretted that it was “found offensive by others.”
“As a small rural Wyoming community with a K-12 district of 681 students, we maintain social media pages primarily to celebrate our students and inform our patrons,” Superintendent Dustin Hunt said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our intent is to simply share the excellent work being done by our students and staff and we regret that any of our content is found offensive by others.”
When the post went viral, accumulating more than 66,000 shares and 6,000 comments, it attracted a mix of comments both supportive and critical of children being taught marksmanship.
As to its removal, however, the superintendent’s office has not returned Cowboy State Daily’s phone call asking why.
Republican Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Aaron Nab chimed in, however, condemning the decision to remove the post.
“Hot Springs County School District made this post on their Facebook last week and now the post is gone, most likely due to some people being cry babies,” Nab said Tuesday. “I fully support what the District was doing with this. This needs to be going on in schools across Wyoming.”
Hunt said the air rifle program has been in place at the middle school for seven years, but other firearm and archery units and programs have been a part of the school and community for much longer.
“The air rifle unit is three weeks in length and part of a larger lifetime activity-based physical education program,” he said. “Students wishing to not participate in any unit including the air rifle unit are offered an alternative assignment. To date, no students have requested an alternate unit or assignment. The district has also not fielded any parent complaints regarding the air rifle unit.”
Wyoming allows gun safety courses to be taught in public schools.
Hunt also pointed out that in Wyoming, the vast majority of households have firearms and said it was important for students to safely learn about and respect things they will encounter in their everyday lives.
“In Wyoming our residents spend a good portion of their lives outdoors for recreation and work,” he said. “It is important to teach students skills in physical education that support their development in the lifetime activities that are common and prevalent in our community and state. Our state has a proud hunting/outdoor heritage with significant participation from youth residents.”