The Wyoming Democratic Party is bothered that Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, a Republican, is scheduled to speak on a panel this weekend with the co-founder of an organization that has fought COVID-19 mandates and pushed for certain books to be removed from school libraries.
Wyoming Democrats criticized Degenfelder on Wednesday night for being involved Saturday at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver with Tina Descovich, co-founder of Moms for Liberty.
Degenfelder told Cowboy State Daily in a statement that her attendance at the event is a platform for her to share Wyoming's education direction and her mission to not politicize education.
"I am pleased to be invited to address the Western Conservative Conference where I will share my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing Wyoming public education, including my strategic plan initiatives like keeping politics out of the classroom," she said.
Also joining the stage with Degenfelder and Descovich during the panel will be swimmer Riley Gaines, who campaigns against the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports and Turning Point USA Florida field coordinator Amanda Spiers.
The Democratic Party says it’s hypocritical that Degenfelder has made teacher retention one of her top priorities, but would share a stage with Descovich, which will discourage teachers from wanting to work in Wyoming.
“What on earth is she doing sharing the stage with the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, an organization that has been terrorizing and demoralizing teachers and school officials for years?” the party posted on its Facebook page.
Moms And Their Liberty
Moms for Liberty is a conservative nonprofit group that advocates against school curricula that mention LGBTQ rights, race, critical race theory and discrimination.
Multiple chapters of Moms for Liberty in Wyoming have also campaigned to ban school library books that address gender and sexuality issues.
Former Natrona County School Board Trustee Debbie McCullar blasted Moms for Liberty during her final meeting last November. At least one member of the Natrona County chapter of this group was elected to the school board.
At an earlier Natrona County School Board meeting last fall, Degenfelder weighed in on that district’s debate over certain library books, saying the books weren’t appropriate for children. She also stressed support for the school board’s local control on the matter.
Members of Moms for Liberty spoke at a Laramie County School District No. 1 board meeting Monday, advocating for an opt-in system that lets parents choose what “sexually explicit” books they want their children to be reading.
Guilty By Association?
Marcie Kindred, communications director of the Laramie County Democratic Party and a 2022 candidate for the state House, is bothered Degenfelder would share a stage with someone who started Moms for Liberty, calling it “a shameful association.”
“The superintendent of public instruction should be defending educators and librarians,” Kindred said. “Their whole M.O. is scaring educators. In Wyoming, we don’t do that.”
Kindred believes local members of Moms for Liberty are taking their lead from the national organization and vilifying teachers.
“They’re taking talking points from their national group that doesn’t understand Wyoming,” she said.
Kathy Scigliano, president of the Laramie County chapter of Moms for Liberty, said there is no validity to this claim and the chapter independently focuses on Wyoming matters.
“It’s an opinion, it’s just that,” she said of Kindred and the Democrat’s reaction. “We don’t terrorize teachers.”
Scigliano mentioned how her organization showed appreciation for teachers during the school year, providing them goody baskets and other gifts. In December 2022, the Laramie chapter raised more than $3,000 to pay off outstanding balances for student lunch accounts.
“It doesn’t bother me. If I let it bother me, I would know it’s true,” Scigliano said of the accusations.
On Thursday morning, the Laramie County Democratic Party put out a press release, criticizing the way Monday’s meeting was managed by board of trustees chairman Tim Bolin, who the party said let “hateful and homophobic rhetoric” on the part of extremist groups run wild in public comments.
Kindred said she considers Moms For Liberty an extremist group that played a role in using this rhetoric.
“They’re grumpy, angry, fearful,” she said. “Everyone from my side was clear, level-headed and armed with the facts.”
In its Year in Hate & Extremism report for 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that a dozen "parental rights" groups behind the movement, including Moms For Liberty, are extremist.
"Two-thirds of Americans think the public education system is on the wrong track today,” Descovich and co-founder Tiffany Justice said in a statement to National Public Radio on Wednesday. “That is why our organization is devoted to empowering parents to be a part of their child's public-school education.”
Recent NPR/Ipsos polling finds, however, that most Americans, including nearly half of Republicans, oppose banning certain books in schools — a central campaign for Moms for Liberty.
Scigliano said this doesn’t square with what she has seen in Wyoming and her community. She said those supporting a stricter, opt-in book policy at LCSD1 made up the majority of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting.
“We’re all pretty reasonable people,” she said.
Scigliano said it should be little surprise that Degenfelder, a Republican, is participating in the panel. Degenfelder expressed support for implementing parental control measures in public education during her 2022 campaign.
“She’s a big proponent as far as getting rid of inappropriate books in school libraries,” Scigliano said.
The Democratic Party also targeted Degenfelder in April, finding it “appalling” that she was making school choice a priority. School choice is the concept that public student dollars stay with the students who choose to attend charter or private schools.
Although Kindred acknowledged that Degenfelder may not share all of the same views as Descovich and could even push back on her during Saturday’s panel, for which a topic has not yet been announced, she has little confidence that will occur.
“I would hope she is there to defend Wyoming’s professional educators, but I seriously doubt that will happen and I’m disappointed she will be there,” she said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.