Sheridan County GOP, Fed Up With Legislature’s Inaction, Asks Schools To Ban Teaching Of Sexual Topics To Children

Sheridan County Republican Party committeeman Tod Windsor said the local party was "fed up" with the state Legislature for not passing a law prohibiting teachers from teaching sexual topics to third graders and younger, so they are asking the local school districts to put up their own ban.

Leo Wolfson

March 22, 20236 min read

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The Sheridan County Republican Party wants its local school districts to ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity issues to all students.

Party leadership passed a resolution Saturday that is in many ways a reproduction of Senate File 117, a bill that failed in this year’s legislative session that would have prohibited the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to students in grades three and younger.

The bill died in the State House when Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, refused to pull it out of his drawer.

If not compelled by state law, Sheridan County Republicans want their school district to act on its own.

“The grassroots, the precinct committee members, are fed up with the inaction of the state Legislature in getting some of these things done,” Tod Windsor, Sheridan County Republican Party committeeman, told Cowboy State Daily.

SF 117 also would have required Wyoming school board trustees to notify a student’s parent or guardian immediately if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to their mental, emotional or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment.

The party resolution includes this as well but expands the range of students who would be prohibited from being taught about sexual orientation and gender identity through the 12th grade.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, also considered that, during an SF 117 discussion in a January committee meeting, but no change was made at that time.

 SF 117 was modeled off of similar legislation passed in Florida, popularly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Kentucky also recently passed similar legislation.

Not Happening Here

Chase Christensen, superintendent of Sheridan County School District 3, said he is confident neither sexual orientation nor gender identity are being taught at any grade level in his school district.

“Whether you agree with it or not, it has absolutely no impact on reality,” Christensen said of the county GOP resolution.

Christensen said students discuss these topics among themselves and while at home. He said the topic of teaching sexual identity and gender orientation has not been a high priority for the district.

“We don’t have to teach these topics,” he said. “The students will receive an education on them whether they’re taught in the schools or not.”

What About Books?

Aspects of sexual orientation and gender identity are taught in some Wyoming high schools. The issue of sexually explicit library books also has become a hot-button issue in the Cowboy State over the last year.

“There is stuff in these school libraries that is pornographic, that’s what this is all about,” Windsor said.

Windsor said although he doesn’t know if sexual identity and gender orientation are directly taught to any students in Sheridan County, he said there are “inklings” of it being taught around the state.

He also said he was informed by Sheridan County School District 2 board member Shelta Rambur the topics are present in books found in school libraries.  

Christensen said nobody reached out to him beforehand about the resolution, but he plans to reach out to the party about the matter.

The resolution passed by an overwhelming majority. It holds no legal standing and is merely a suggestion or commentary.

The party requested the school districts implement the measures by July 1.

What It Does

The resolution mostly copies language in the Parental Rights In Education Act but leaves out language that school districts are exempt from being penalized if they withhold information from parents based on a reasonable suspicion that abuse will happen if they reveal it. Sheridan County GOP Chairman Bryan Miller said he doesn’t know why this was left out as he did not write the resolution.

Sheridan County Republican Precinct Committeeman Gail Symons also said there was a suggestion during Saturday’s meeting of changing the language of the resolution to include all forms of sex education, but this was rejected. 

“This is an end-run on the legislative processes,” she said.

State Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, who sponsored SF 117, told Cowboy State Daily he is considering bringing a new version of the bill back next year.

“What it did was it caught the attention of parents across the state that said, ‘Wait a minute, I want to have a say in some of these issues,’” he said. 

Local Control

Sommers said the bill seeks to impede local control and may not have been constitutional. He also said the issues the bill sought to address are largely not happening in Wyoming anyway.

The Sheridan GOP resolution notes the local control argument, saying this justifies the party’s trying to address the issues itself.

Although the action taken by the Sheridan GOP is a form of local control, Dockstader said he is unsure if it can actually be addressed at a local level.

“I don’t know if the school board has the power to do that,” he said.

Dockstader also said he only supports the measure if it applies to grades K-3.

“I’m still staying with very young ones,” Dockstader said. “Their parents are always a little worried when they send them off to school.”

Sheridan County School District 1 board member Eric Lofgren said any action taken on the GOP resolution would be a board decision.

“All the board members don’t throw their own opinions out there,” he said. “We state what our opinion is as a board.”

Mercedes Biteman, wife of Senator Biteman, also sits on the Sheridan County School District No. 1 board.

Bo Biteman voted in support of SF 117 on the Senate floor and when it was considered in the Senate Education Committee. He also voted for the resolution on Saturday.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter