An outgoing Natrona County School Board trustee on Monday openly ridiculed a newly elected member who will soon join the board.
Trustee Debbie McCullar delivered what she called her “swan song” during her last regular meeting of the board. Her remarks came after she and the board voted to keep sexually graphic books “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” in the Kelly Walsh High School library, with the caveat that parents must opt their students in to access the books.
McCullar’s “swan song” was a lengthy rebuke of Trustee-elect Mary Schmidt, who defeated McCullar in the general election Nov. 8. Schmidt campaigned on a parental control platform, especially regarding library materials.
McCullar also criticized the Natrona County Moms for Liberty, which advocates for parental rights in schools, and Patriots for Liberty, a conservative group.
“I think it’s time that you get a taste of your own medicine. So let’s pretend that it’s story hour, are you ready for a story?” McCullar asked, adding that her comments were mostly directed at Schmidt, whom she called the “driver of discontent among her minions.”
“When you guys first came to the board, I thought you a passionate group who wanted masks to be optional because they weren’t good for kids, and I wholeheartedly agreed,” said McCullar. “But because of an overabundance of concern we didn’t vote to apply for a variance.
“Our mistake. And the crowd roared – and you haven’t quit since.”
Schmidt in a press release Tuesday afternoon countered, saying that the mask protests started with four moms whom she does not know. After reading their comments via news outlets in spring 2021, Schmidt said she “became curious” and began attending board meetings regarding masks.
“I don’t even believe I spoke at those meetings,” Schmidt said.
Critical Race Theory
McCullar said Schmidt and her peers “schooled” the board on critical race theory, “which we didn’t even teach.”
Schmidt in her statement said the “schooling on CRT… was born out of a concern regarding the (social-emotional learning) program Character Strong that was being used at the local high schools last year.”
Character Strong touts its social-emotional learning program for high schoolers as a community- and character-building curriculum.
Schmidt said she and other mothers researched the program and discovered “alarming” information about the program, its parent company and organizations involved in its creation.
In a follow-up email, she said the program appears to lack oversight and consistency, and that it may be designed to collect “sensitive personal non-cognitive data of (minors)” in a way that could violate students’ privacy.
McCullar said Schmidt’s handling of the controversy surrounding the sexually graphic books was “manipulative.”
“You did find two books from your Moms for Liberty talking points to be outraged about,” said McCullar. “These books that have been on the shelves for three years and checked out to fewer than 20 students over that time – you used these books to inflame the community.
“The pornography claim was born.”
McCullar said that the Moms and Patriots for Liberty disparaged and bullied board members.
McCullar recalled when Schmidt during a September meeting asked that the book debate be delayed, out of respect for the local Diaz family, which had just lost two of its members to a fatal car wreck.
McCullar theorized that Schmidt was asking for a postponement because “those weren’t your people here to speak.”
There was a large turnout of sexually graphic book defenders at the meeting.
Sexualization Of Children
Schmidt did not address that claim directly, but she delivered a strong-worded counter regarding the books in question.
“If you support keeping books that are intended for school-age children that instruct on sexual acts, toys, occupation and surgeries then yes, I believe that you are supportive of the educational sexualization of children,” Schmidt said. “If you support keeping books that depict sexual graphic pictures and sexually graphic language, then yes, I believe that you are supportive of the sexualization of children. That is my opinion.”
Schmidt said that the high school has a social and reading competency problem, and also happens to have a high number of books on “transgenderism.”
Pedophiles And Groomers
McCullar also railed against the comments of Eric Paulson at a past board meeting, when Paulson called a substitute teacher who defended the books a “pedophile” and a “groomer.”
“I never heard a single one of you apologize for the remarks of your fellow patriot, Mr. Eric Paulson, who also believes that if one is against censorship, that makes one a pedophile,” said McCullar.
Schmidt said she believes this is a mischaracterization.
“Ms. McCullar apparently did not observe Jenifer Hopkins (another newly-elected board member and book challenger) get up and walk out after Mr. Paulson and admonish him in the lobby of the district office for his comments that evening,” Schmidt said.
McCullar launched numerous personal attacks on Schmidt.
She accused Schmidt of being an activist homeschool mom, a hypocrite, a bully, divisive, a purveyor of misinformation and said Schmidt likely hears “demonic screeches” when listening to people who disagree with her.
“You know Mary, you’re a pretty woman,” said McCullar. “But I never noticed … because you always have a scowl on your face.”
Schmidt said she attributes the attacks to “the difficulty in accepting the election results. I hope in time (McCullar) will reconcile herself with the results.”
Schmidt said she’s proud to be an activist homeschool mom.
Other board members in their final speeches for this term cycle bid farewell to the exiting members and expressed fondness for all trustees, as did McCullar before she began addressing Schmidt.
McCullar said she was “really impressed” when Schmidt congratulated Michael Stedillie, the top vote-getter in the school board election, on Facebook, but indicated that she soon ceased to be impressed.
After his election, Stedillie told Cowboy State Daily he supports keeping the two challenged books in the high school.
McCullar said Schmidt published a subsequent post “encouraging your minions to attend tonight’s board meeting because Mike is against censorship, which you equate with condoning the sexualization of children,” she said. “In my opinion, Mike should sue your ass – bet he’s really anxious to work with you.”
Schmidt in her written statement said she looks forward to working with the five trustees who will remain on the board, and with Trustee-elect Kevin Christopherson. She said she had a cordial conversation with Stedillie at the Monday meeting and looks forward to working with him also despite their disagreements.
“Based on the reaction and support of Debbie McCullar by the existing board after her comments last night, I will assume that we are not entering into an amicable environment,” said Schmidt, presumably referencing herself and Hopkins, who ran for office together.
Applause followed McCullar’s speech.