Rock Springs School District Says It's Just Following Law, Not Gender Transitioning Student

Sweetwater County School District No. 1 asked a federal court not to block its rules requiring teachers to call students by their transgender names and pronouns, saying the district will lose federal money if it stops, and the practice is akin to calling kids by their nicknames. 

Clair McFarland

May 16, 20237 min read

Black Butte High School in Rock Springs is operated out of the Western Wyoming Community College campus. The school, and Sweetwater County School District No. 1 officials, are accused of transitioning a student without parental knowledge.
Black Butte High School in Rock Springs is operated out of the Western Wyoming Community College campus. The school, and Sweetwater County School District No. 1 officials, are accused of transitioning a student without parental knowledge. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

The Wyoming school district being sued for allegedly helping a high school girl socially transition genders behind her parents’ backs says it has merely followed the law, and that the judge in the case should not block its actions.

It also argues that blocking the school district could open the door other belief-based actions, like letting Ku Klux Klan families ask for a return of forced segregations.

Sean and Ashley Willey filed a lawsuit April 20 against Sweetwater County School District No. 1 and some administrators claiming the district and Black Butte High School in Rock Springs hid their daughter’s social gender transition from them.

The alleged deception further confused a history of trauma and the mental issues for which the girl has been in counseling, the lawsuit claims. 

Ashley Willey, who is a teacher in one of the district’s other schools, also is suing for religious and free-speech freedoms in protest of a school practice requiring teachers to use transgender pronouns when kids request it.  

The Willeys asked U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl to block the district’s contested actions during the lawsuit, by ordering an injunction against it.  

No Need For That 

The district fired back in a Monday filing, saying the Willeys’ request for an injunction is unfair and unnecessary.  

The district also accuses Ashley Willey of hypocrisy for asking the school to respect her parental rights by not using male pronouns for her daughter, while also refusing to use alternate pronouns on students whose parents may agree with that choice.  

“In short, Plaintiff Ashley Willey isn’t seeking to advance any particular legal principle, but instead is attempting to use this Court as a cudgel to enforce her personal preferences as law,” says the school district’s filing.  

District staffers are not currently using boy pronouns or names for the girl, nor is Ashley Willey now being compelled to use transgender terms for any students, the filing argues.

Therefore, says the district, there is no current, contested action for the judge to block by issuing an injunction.  

Because, Federal Funding 

If the judge does block the district’s procedure mandating that teachers must use the names and pronouns that students prefer, then the district could lose its federal Title IX funding.  

President Joe Biden’s administration, including the U.S. Department of Education, interprets Title IX as barring gender-identity discrimination. A federal judge has blocked the federal department from enforcing that interpretation in 20 states, but Wyoming is not one of those states.  

By risking Title IX funding, the judge’s injunction could hurt the public more than not issuing the injunction would hurt the Willeys, the district alleges.  

Just Like A Nickname? 

The district’s filing compares its pronoun and name rule to calling students by their nicknames.  

“The Procedure does not, as Plaintiffs’ strawman arguments claim, require staff to assist in a student’s social transitioning, engage in deceit or provide mental health services to students,” says the filing. “It is a content neutral rule requiring staff to use all students’ chosen names and pronouns regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

If a student named Steven wishes to shorten his name to “Steve,” and the school accommodates him — but refuses to accommodate a transgender student asking for an alternate name — then the school may be violating equal protection mandates, the district alleges.  

Later in the suit, the district hints at hypocrisy again by noting that Ashley Willey has been heard using students’ nicknames but now is protesting against having to use transgender names and pronouns.      

Because Willey is not required currently to use the district’s rule on any children, “she has suffered no actual or imminent harm … if calling someone by their chosen name could indeed be considered a harm,” the filing reads.  

Not Social Transitioning, School Says 

The district says its rule doesn’t interfere with parents’ rights or freedoms and doesn’t require staffers to “assist any student in social transitioning.”  

The Willeys countered that claim in an earlier affidavit to the court, written by transgender woman Dr. Erica Anderson, a clinical psychologist in Berkely, California.  

Anderson told the court that social transition means using new names and pronouns differing from one’s natal sex.  

It is “an impactful psychotherapeutic intervention that has the potential to increase the likelihood and persistence of gender incongruence,” wrote Anderson, adding that parents should be involved with these decisions.  

Pandora’s Box 

If the court grants the Willeys’ injunction request, it could open a “Pandora’s box of potential outcomes,” says the district.  

“Would the District be required to stop serving beef at school cafeterias if a Hindu student disobeyed their parent’s religious teachings?” it asks in the filing. “Perhaps Plaintiffs believe only Christian parental beliefs should be enforced at the District level.”  

The district then indicated that accommodating the Willeys’ request for injunction could next allow Ku Klux Klan parents to demand a return to segregation.  

“It is neither the fervency of a plaintiffs’ (sic) belief, nor the extremity of their fear that guides Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection) jurisprudence,” says the filing.  

Not School’s Fault 

The district says its alleged “interference” is not what is causing the rift between the Willeys and their daughter. Its filing generally refers to the girl as she, though it once refers to her as “them.” 

“(The student’s) Facebook profile describes them as ‘pro choice, ftm (female-to-male), gay, cosplayer, anime lover, loves sports and books, severe adhd, probably autistic,” says the filing.  

Any harm caused by the girl’s transition, the district alleges, is outside the realm of what the school can control.  

“The issues Plaintiffs raise concerns about (things that) are not happening at school,” the filing says.  

Meanwhile, In Florida 

One of the cases the district cites to support its point — that refusing to use alternate pronouns is gender identity discrimination under Title IX — is Adams vs. School Board of St. Johns County.  

But the latest ruling on that case could, rather, refute the district’s point.  

Though in 2020 a federal court ruled that the Florida school district discriminated against transgender student Drew Adams, by barring Adams from the boys’ bathroom, the appeals court two years later issued an opposite opinion.  

Separating school bathrooms by biological sex doesn’t violate Title IX or constitutional equal protection mandates, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2022.  

This case is not the final say in the matter. For example, the nearby Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 said the law and constitution “resoundingly” protect transgender students’ access to the bathrooms of their choice.   

Wyoming is in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, not the Fourth or 11th.  

Clair McFarland may be reached at


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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter