A group has formed in Cheyenne to work to oppose efforts to pull certain controversial books off the shelves of public school libraries in Laramie County School District 1.
Wyoming Families For Freedom has June 5 circled on the calendar, the day when the LCSD1 Board of Trustees will discuss changing its policies about obtaining and distributing books in its library system.
“We grew very organically over this proposed policy change and other issues being considered before the school board,” said group organizer Marcie Kindred, a 2022 state House candidate.
Efforts to remove or reduce access to books have been growing throughout Wyoming over the past few years.
Many residents in communities like Casper and Cody have been vocal about wanting to pull or restrict access to books they say are inappropriate and/or contain “sexually explicit” material students should not be exposed to, including about race, LGBTQ and sex education-related topics.
Their efforts have been galvanized by conservative groups like Moms for Liberty that have organized focused messaging and donated to politician candidates.
Kindred said Families For Freedom will aim to combat and emulate these types of organizing efforts, first in Cheyenne, and then statewide. Although there has been definite resistance to people attempting to put restrictions on books, there hasn’t been a cohesive effort organizing people around this point.
“We’re pushing back,” Kindred said. “We would love to make systems that could be replicated for school boards across the state.”
Opt In Or Opt Out?
LCSD1 is considering three major policy changes June 5.
The first is to define what “sexually explicit” means regarding materials in public schools.
Some have said there is pornographic and violent material on LCSD1 shelves that should either be removed or placed in a separate section. This group of people want the district to change its policy to an “opt in” system for a list of books deemed inappropriate, instead of the current policy of parents opting their students out of accessing the material.
The current book policy in LCSD1 includes an electronic “opt-out” option that allows parents to manage a child’s access to certain library content, but the different content areas are not listed or organized.
With around 100,000 book titles in the LCSD1 school system, Kathy Scigliano, president of the Laramie County chapter of Moms for Liberty, said it’s unrealistic to expect a parent to sift through all the unorganized titles and genres and determine which are appropriate and which are not.
“It gives parents more of a chance to see what’s being offered,” Scigliano said of the opt-in approach. “That way parents can go through, curate and see the books and genres a little better.”
She also said an opt-in policy would allow parents to see what new books are added to the system immediately.
The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that as of Feb. 5, 958 LCSD1 parents had registered online and 18 opted-out.
“It’s already being underutilized without infringing on other children’s access,” Kindred said.
More than 100 books have been targeted for removal or restriction, which Kindred believes was the result of out-of-state groups trying to influence schools in Wyoming.
The third consideration for the June 5 meeting will study the district’s procurement process for library materials.
Any changes made at that meeting will face a 45-day review.
‘Costly’ And ‘Problematic’
Kindred said changing the opt-out policy would be both costly and problematic. Of the targeted books, she said nearly 40% feature LGBTQ+ stories or authors while 32% feature minority stories or authors.
“Students need access to books featuring a wide diversity of the human experience, because our students represent a wide diversity of the human experience,” Kindred said in a press release. “These books develop students' empathy and allow them to feel seen.”
Kindred believes although there should be age restrictions put on certain books, it should be the parent that determines which ones are appropriate for their child. She also finds it naive to think that high schoolers aren’t experiencing many of the topics being discussed in the controversial books firsthand.
Scigliano said she feels fairly confident the board of trustees will enact some policy changes.
Kindred said it will be “an uphill battle” to convince the school board to not change its policy, an issue it has been studying for about a year. But she believes if enough people show up June 5 opposing the change, the school board will have no choice but to stand pat if the members want to get reelected.
“If Laramie County makes it clear the majority of constituents of the county do not want this to happen, they have to respond to the voters,” Kindred said.
She said the contingency of parents opposing policy change efforts need to get ahead of the issue rather than responding to what others are saying. Kindred believes those supporting book restrictions used this rhetoric to win school board seats during the 2022 election, a trend she hopes to reverse during the 2024 elections.
“We will not miss it again,” Kindred said.
Kindred said her group won’t be limited to books and will work on all matters of freedom in Wyoming.
On Tuesday, it will host a town hall at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne from 6:30-8 p.m., where it will discuss the proposed policy changes and plan for the school board meeting.
Contact Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com