Rock Springs Parents Say Transfer Doesn’t Nix School Transgender Policy Lawsuit

Rock Springs parents argue that just because their high school student has transferred out of Sweetwater County School District 1 doesn’t mean their lawsuit over the district’s transgender policy is any less valid.

Clair McFarland

September 18, 20234 min read

Sweetwater County School District 1 2
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Rock Springs family is arguing that its lawsuit against the local school district should advance, even though the student whose plight sparked the action no longer goes to school there.  

Sean and Ashley Willey sued Sweetwater County School District No. 1 in April, claiming the district’s 2021-2023 policy compelled teachers to call transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns, and to hide that from parents.  

The school used to treat the Willeys’ transgender-identifying daughter as a boy, the parents allege, despite her history of trauma and her private counselor’s urging against socially transitioning to present as a boy.  

The school district asked U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl in August to throw out major portions of the Willeys’ lawsuit since their daughter no longer attends school in that district. 

The Willeys are arguing against that.

In a Monday filing they argue that, while not having their daughter in the district may change the way the court addresses relief for the family going forward, it shouldn’t affect the Willeys’ requests for damages from the school district or their legal claims against it.  

Erase The Past 

The school district announced a new policy last month, apparently tailored to Skavdahl’s concerns that the old policy was unconstitutional.  

Under the new policy, staffers only can keep parents in the dark about the gender identities of students if a staff member, along with the district superintendent and human resources director, finds that telling the parents would be detrimental to the student’s health or safety.  

The Willeys via their attorney Ernie Trakas are now accusing the district of trying to erase the past to get out of the lawsuit.  

“Defendants incredibly claim that these post-filing actions (the student’s transfer and the new policy) have mooted all of Plaintiffs’ claims for completed violations of their fundamental parental rights, free exercise and free speech rights,” says the Willeys’ filing.  

The filing accuses the district further of pretending that school staffers weren’t still treating the student as a boy after the lawsuit’s filing, though Ashley Willey says that at least three teachers continued to do so.  

The legal filings by both the Willeys and the school district refer to the student as “she” and “her.”  

In The Past … 

The Willeys’ filing draws attention to other school-lawsuit cases in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, of which Wyoming is a part, in which courts still recognized those cases after the students involved left their respective schools.  

“Defendants do not, and cannot, escape liability for sufficiently pled past injuries they have caused because (the student) is no longer enrolled in the District (or) because the Defendants adopted a new policy,” the filing says.  

Other Claims 

The Willeys are also asking the court to advance Ashley Willey’s claims against the district on her own behalf, not as a parent but as a teacher.  

Ashley Willey, who is a teacher in a different school in the district, also suffered violations of her free-speech and religious exercise rights, the lawsuit alleges.  

The new filing reiterates this, saying the district denied reasonable accommodation for Ashley Willeys’ religious obligation not to lie to parents and not to call people terms contrary to their sex. 

It also claims the district is mocking Ashley Willey’s beliefs.  

“Defendants pejoratively describe Plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs,” says the filing, going on to quote where the district wrote that Ashley Willey “maintains sincerely held religious beliefs such that she denies the existence of transgender persons while believing in absolute parental authority and truth telling.”  

In fact, the filing counters, the Willeys have sincere religious beliefs that human beings are created male or female and that the natural order doesn’t change for people’s feelings — and that parents have a duty to bring up their children after this belief.  

When Ashley Willey raised the issue, a district administrator told her, “We don’t get to base our decisions on personal and religious beliefs.”  

Trakas’ filing claims the district has “run roughshod” over Ashley Willey’s rights, and the lawsuit complaint should advance in court.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter