Legislators Disagree How To Address ‘Pornography’ In Schools If School Boards Won’t

in News/Education

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Local school boards should control the themes of material available to students in Wyoming school libraries, but legislators will get involved if they have to, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.   

Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily that two sexually graphic books in the Kelly Walsh High School Library should not be there, and that the school should focus instead on the fundamentals of education.   

Washut is a former police officer and an educator at Casper College who now serves on the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee, which oversees changes in criminal law.   

He expressed disapproval of the books “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” both of which survived challenges Sept. 1 and will remain in the Kelly Walsh High School library unless the Natrona County School Board considers an appeal against them.   

Cowboy State Daily reviewed both books and roughly summarized them Thursday. They contain images and wording describing sex acts in detail; “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” offers a list of transgender pornography websites and instructions on how to make trans porn, and advice on hiring or dating sex workers. They also act as informative resources for transgender and gender-expansive individuals.  

No Sex Questions On The Test 

“I can’t imagine why a school board would want this type of material available in the school library,” said Washut. “I don’t see the value of it in terms of education.”  

Washut noted there are no questions on the state’s uniform public school tests about how to perform sex acts, “So why is that included in a high school library?”   

And yet, Washut said making statewide law changes isn’t an ideal solution because local governments are closest to the communities they represent. 

But if the controversy doesn’t abate, legislators will get involved, he said. 

“I’d expect that if the school boards across the state don’t address these types of issues, there probably will be a push within the Legislature to address the matter,” said Washut, adding that it would not surprise him to see the issue addressed in the upcoming lawmaking session in January.   

“I’d expect that if the school boards across the state don’t address these types of issues, there probably will be a push within the Legislature to address the matter.”

State Rep. Art Washut, R-casper

First Amendment Concerns 

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, said Wyoming has large, diverse communities with varying opinions about what is pornography and what is educational literature.   

Provenza, who is a research scientist and serves on the Judiciary Committee with Washut, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that she does not think the controversy over the books is an appropriate cause for law changes.  

“If (parents) want to monitor what their children are reading and censor, that’s their prerogative, but it’s not their right to have that influence on other people’s households, or other people’s children,” said Provenza.   

Parents may contact the Kelly Walsh High School Library and forbid their students from checking out the two books, a Natrona County School Board trustee said last month. 

Parents at recent school board meetings countered, saying the books are a poor use of public money.   

What Is Pornography? Casper Residents Clash At School Board Meeting Over Library Books | Cowboy State Daily  

Provenza also disagrees with that argument.   

“Some of the value of public education is that we’re trying to educate a broad base of people,” she said. “And while someone may hold views other people don’t like, sometimes there are lessons to be learned about those things. What you may deem pornographic material, others may consider educational.”   

Provenza said it is “problematic” to begin censoring books because there are so many differing viewpoints in any one community.   

“Mostly in this state we’ve taken the attitude of ‘live and let live,’” she said.   

Obscenity, A Misdemeanor  

Promoting obscenity is a misdemeanor in Wyoming punishable by up to a year in jail and $6,000 in fines, if the obscene materials are offered to minors. It’s potentially $1,000 in fines and a year in jail if  the materials are offered to adults.  

“Obscene” is a relative term in the law that uses contemporary community standards taken as a whole to determine if the materials appeal to the prurient interest, describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way and lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.   

However, Wyoming exempts librarians, educators and police from the statute if they are acting in the course of “bona fide” activities. For example, police investigators often need to review child pornography as crime evidence.   

Washut said he hasn’t yet formed an opinion on whether the exemption for librarians and educators should be revised to address the controversy.   

Provenza said she would not support efforts to repeal or weaken the exemption.

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