Natrona School Board Hears Draft Policy On Sexually-Graphic Books, Vote In Two Weeks

The Natrona County School Board met on Monday evening to discuss new policy options for sexually graphic books in school libraries. One school board member said the goal is to "ban sexually explicit images from school library materials"

Clair McFarland

November 15, 20226 min read

Trans bodies trans selves and gender queer 11 15 22
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Explicit content: The following story contains images that depict mature subject matter. Cowboy State Daily gently blurred nude images, but in the original books, both available at Kelly Walsh High School, the nude images are generally uncensored. Read at your own discretion.

The Natrona County School board’s draft policy confronting sexually explicit books does not contain a definition for pornography.   

The board heard the new policy once at its regular meeting Monday and will hear it a second time and vote on it at its Nov. 28 meeting. In the meantime, said school board member Dave Applegate, policy stakeholders such as librarians may offer their input.   

Contested Books 

Community members have debated before the board for months about two contested books, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” and “Gender Queer,” which passed a subcommittee’s review and remain in the Kelly Walsh High School library in Casper. Both books contain images and descriptions of sexual acts.   

Applegate said the board is not going to grapple with the public’s argument around what pornography is. Rather, he said, the new policy seeks to ban sexually explicit images from school library materials.   

“So, I would point out to you that … we don’t have to climb that hurdle. We don’t have to have a debate about whether it’s pornography or not,” said Applegate. “I think most everyone can agree that (the contested books are) sexually explicit.”   

Image from the book “Gender Queer,” one of two books in the Kelly Walsh High School library that have sparked a community debate and draft of a new policy by the Natrona County School board.

The Proposed Policy 

If approved as drafted, the policy would forbid sexually explicit images, acts and simulations of acts from school library materials across all grades. It also would forbid sexually explicit or implied written descriptions of sexual acts from library materials in elementary schools.   

The draft defines sexually explicit images as “any pictorial, three-dimensional material or graphic novel depicting human masturbation, sexual intercourse, sexual acts or direct physical stimulation.”   

The new policy would mandate that librarians opt students out from accessing certain titles at the request of parents, and that each library keep a list of its materials on-site or online.   

“I’m hopeful we can be in agreement on that, that transparency is something that’s positive for the district – and there would be agreement on that across all stakeholders,” said Applegate.   

Under the new policy, librarians would be advised to choose the less sexually explicit of two otherwise equally informative book choices.   

Librarians’ Selection ‘Of The Highest Quality’  

Although the board did not vote on the policy after its first reading, many people attended the meeting to comment on it; some to urge the board against the policy and others to congratulate the board for drafting the policy.    

Cheryl Good, a public commenter, said the board should get more input before voting on the policy, specifically from librarians.   

“Would you question the wiring done by a certified district electrician? Would you question how the IT department repairs computers?” asked Good. “The policy and its accompanying regulation appear to (micromanage) librarians.”  

Good said she’s a professional in the library field and believes that librarians’ training and resources for selecting materials are “of the highest quality.”  

“Please let them do their jobs,” she said.   

Top Vote-Getter  

Michael Stedillie spoke out in favor of the books. Stedillie was the top vote-getter in the Nov. 8 school board election and will be taking his seat on the board in January. 

He will be joined by Mary Schmidt, Jenifer Hopkins and Kevin Christopherson who also won seats in the election. 

Schmidt and Hopkins told Cowboy State Daily they hope to rid the district of sexually explicit books. Christopherson said he’d vote against the books but feels the board should move on soon and deal with other issues that concern it.   

Stedillie said the books don’t fit the definition of pornography and have “redeeming social value.”   

“I urge the trustees to ratify the (reconsideration) committee’s recommendation and keep these books available for students,” said Stedillie.   

Gay Partners  

Another speaker, Tanis Lovercheck-Saunders, who teaches at Casper College and has a teen in the LGBTQ community, said the books’ detractors merely oppose LGBTQ acceptance.   

Lovercheck-Saunders’ comments were contrary to the earlier testimony of Casper resident and author Ross Schriftman.   

Schriftman said he works as an insurance agent.    

“In the 1980s, I helped several gay partners acquire life insurance on each other, in case one died prematurely, the survivor could maintain themselves in the home they’d purchased together and pay off their mortgage,” he said. “During all my conversations with my clients, none of them talked about their sexual intimacy. They were more concerned with what would happen if one of them were to die and the care they had for each other.”  

Schriftman said the school district should emphasize empathy, not sexual activity, in its materials.   

Other speakers commended the board for its policy draft, including former school board candidate Renea Redding.   

“We’re not afraid of the LGBTQ community,” said Redding. “We’re afraid of this kind of stuff in books. … How can people be OK with putting this kind of stuff in front of children?”

Read More On This Subject

Nov. 10: Voters Oust Wyoming School Board Members In Wake Of Debate Over Sexually Graphic Books

Oct. 25: Degenfelder Says Sexually-Explicit Books ‘Not Suitable For Minors’

Oct. 18: Conservatives Declare War On ‘Sexualizing Children’ At Rally In Cody

Oct. 14: Furor Over Sexually Explicit Books Misguided, Says LGBTQ Advocate And State House Candidate

Oct. 12: Casper School Board Asks For Police To Intervene After Teacher Gets Called ‘Pedophile’ In Book Debate

Oct. 5: Books In Wyoming School Library ‘Groom’ Children, Says Sex Crimes Investigator

Oct. 4: Legislators Disagree How To Address ‘Pornography’ In Schools If School Boards Won’t

Sept. 30: What Is Pornography? Casper Residents Clash At School Board Meeting Over Library Books

Sept. 29: Controversial Books ‘Gender Queer’ and ‘Trans Bodies’ Remain In Casper High School Library – Here’s What’s In Them

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter