Parents Claiming Rock Springs School Was Transitioning Child Behind Their Backs Say Others Have Told Them It’s Happened Before  

In a Zoom interview with Cowboy State Daily, Sean and Ashley Willey say since they sued the Rock Springs school system over allegedly gender transitioning their teen behind their backs, other Rock Springs families have said that’s happened to them as well.

Clair McFarland

May 31, 20239 min read

Sean and Ashley Willey of Rock Springs say that since they sued Sweetwater County School District No. 1 for allegedly gender transitioning their teen behind their backs that other local parents have told them they had similar experiences with the district.
Sean and Ashley Willey of Rock Springs say that since they sued Sweetwater County School District No. 1 for allegedly gender transitioning their teen behind their backs that other local parents have told them they had similar experiences with the district. (Courtesy Photo)

After Sean and Ashley Willey sued their school district in Rock Springs, some residents of the southwestern Wyoming community have thanked them, the couple says.  

“There are a lot of people that have come out and said they support us and are grateful we’re taking the stance to bring it out and make it known and bring awareness,” said Sean Willey during a Zoom interview with Cowboy State Daily, during which he sat next to his wife Ashley.  

Ernie Trakas, the couple’s attorney from Missouri, also attended the interview.  

The Willeys sued Sweetwater County School District No. 1 in April, alleging that district staff have been calling their high school daughter by a boy’s name and pronouns behind their backs, despite the girl’s private counselor saying this could confuse her efforts to heal from a past trauma and other issues.  

The district countered, saying the Willeys’ lawsuit complaint is “false” and “fabricated,” and that the district’s rule of calling transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns with or without parents’ approval is necessary for following civil rights laws.  

“We’ve had quite a few people reach out and say they have kids that have graduated or are about to graduate, or who are still in the system, that have stepped up and said they’ve experienced similar issues with the district,” said Sean Willey. “And they weren’t quite sure how to handle it or they were too timid … to make any noise.”  

Sweetwater County School District No. 1 did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.  

Sweetwater County School District 1 2

Spotlight’s Glare 

The Willeys’ daughter has good days and bad days, the couple said.  

It’s been a “rollercoaster ride for her” since the lawsuit became public, said Sean Willey.  

The publicity itself hasn’t been as trying as its impacts, Ashley Willey added. Some people who are aware of the lawsuit – including teachers and friends – now are going out of their way to treat the girl as a boy, which her parents maintain is exacerbating her preexisting issues.  

“They think they’re helping. I’m sure they do think they’re helping,” she said. 

But Trakas said other people don’t get to decide what’s best for the Willeys’ child.  

“What other people think is their business,” said Trakas. As for the publicity of the lawsuit, he said it was a difficult, but necessary, last resort for the Willeys.  

Sean Willey had confronted the school board last autumn saying the district’s procedure was mentally harming his child and entrenching her in a double life, months after Ashley Willey sent administrators strongly worded letters asking them to use the girll’s female name and pronouns.  

“From my perspective, the Willeys had no alternative,” Trakas said about taking legal action. “And we’ve done the right thing. I have no regrets. In fact, it’s my privilege and my honor to represent them.”  

Ernie Trakas headshot

‘It Goes By …’ 

Willey learned about her daughter’s boy persona through a misunderstanding at a teacher training event March 29, 2022, which she attended because she’s a junior high school teacher in the district, according to the Willeys’ lawsuit complaint.  

She chatted with high school teachers and tried to find out if they knew her daughter. At first, they didn’t seem to know her.  

“It goes by (male name),” said one teacher to another, after some confusion.  

“No, she goes by (female name),” responded Ashley Willey.    

As the situation came into focus, Ashley Willey asked how long her daughter had been going by a male name at school. The answer was about seven months, or the entire school year to that point.  

Cold Shoulder 

Ashley Willey still works in a junior high school in the district, which isn’t always comfortable now.  

“It’s very up and down,” she said. “I get the cold shoulder from some people, and that’s unfortunate.” 

But other staffers have thanked Willey, she said, because they had to sign a “non-negotiables” form requiring them to use transgender names and pronouns whenever students request it, and not all of them agree with it.  

As for Ashley Willey, she crossed that portion out of her own non-negotiables form before signing it.  

Part of the Willeys’ lawsuit alleges that the district is violating Ashley Willey’s religious and free-speech rights by compelling her to deceive parents and refer to students in what she believes is a dishonest way.  

“A few teachers other than me crossed out that portion of things; but everybody else said they signed it because they were afraid of losing their jobs,” she said. “They didn’t think there was another option.” 

‘And I’ll Prove That Too’ 

Trakas acknowledged the district’s most recent filing, in which attorneys Kathleen Chaney and Eric D. Hevenor of Colorado asked U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl not to interfere with the district’s names and pronouns procedure.  

Chaney and Hevenor called the Willeys’ opposite request — for Skavdahl to block the district’s procedure — inconsistent and legally incoherent. The district via its attorneys also accuse Ashley Willey of using the court “as a cudgel to enforce her personal preferences as law.”  

The district compared its transgender name and pronoun procedure to the habit of using nicknames for kids, saying it can’t discriminate against transgender kids who want to use alternate names when it accommodates non-transgender kids who ask to be called by nicknames.  

Trakas said this doesn't characterize the problem, or the trouble in withholding information from parents. 

“But there is no doubt that the district was fully aware of the circumstances with respect to (the Willeys’) daughter’s condition in advance of its decision to withhold information from the Willeys," he said. 

Trakas said he’s certain he and the Willeys will win the lawsuit.

“(The district's) actions are nothing short of reckless. And I’ll prove that too,” said Trakas.

Black Butte High School 1

Secret Cellphone 

The district said in its filing that staffers are no longer referring to the girl as a boy, because the student has asked them to treat her as a girl.  

The Willeys retorted, saying they discovered recently their daughter had a secret cellphone, which revealed that at least three teachers are still treating her as a boy.  

It’s a pay-as-you go cellphone some friends gave to their daughter, the couple told Cowboy State Daily.  

“It was a group of students – kiddos that we’ve told her she’s not allowed to communicate with for the time being until she … gives her counseling some time to work through the struggles she’s having,” said Sean Willey. “These people felt they know better for her.” 

Trakas said he expects Skavdahl to rule on whether to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the district’s procedure fairly soon.  

Policy Or Procedure 

The Willeys lamented that the district’s procedure didn’t go for a vote before its elected school board. That’s what makes it a “procedure” instead of a “policy,” said Sean Willey.  

“It was not passed to the board and it was not made known to the public” during its formulation, he added. “They just passed this procedure on their own whim to the teachers.”  

There were board members at that time who may have voted against the policy, the Willeys theorize, adding that they don’t know much about board members’ stances now.  

You Ain’t From Around Here 

Trakas is from Missouri. His law group, Child & Parental Rights Campaign, is based in Georgia.  

When the district publicly rebutted the Willeys’ legal complaint in April via an email from Human Resources Director Nicole Bolton, it emphasized that Trakas’ group isn’t from Wyoming.  

“The allegations made by this out-of-state organization are completely false, fabricated and appear to be intended solely for the purpose of inciting the public,” reads the email. “All employees of the district consistently work to ensure that the best interests of all students are served.”  

Other detractors on social media have called the Willeys’ complaint and corresponding social movements a “national agenda,” as opposed to a Wyoming priority.  

Trakas called the focus on his state a “canard” and a “distraction,” adding that parental rights are important to everyone, no matter what state they’re from.  

“Our group is a public interest law firm focused on child and parental rights,” he said. “it’s no different than the ACLU or Alliance Defending Freedom or any other public interest law firm on either side of the aisle.”  

Trakas said the movement against parental autonomy in this area also is a national agenda.  

“What you’ll see – and I’m seeing this district to district and state to state – these types of maneuvers replicate themselves,” he said. “My guess is there are strategies being shared and distributed by other organizations.” 

The district’s equating transgender names and pronouns to nicknames is a new counterpoint, however, Trakas said.  

“But I’d be willing to bet you, in another month or two or three, we’ll see it somewhere else,” he added. “There seems to be a pattern.”  

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter