Teacher, Parents Give Conflicting Accounts On Sex Pictures In Wright Art Class

The tiny town of Wright, Wyoming, exploded in controversy this week over a dispute about whether a fourth-grade art teacher enabled students to view images of male-on-male sex acts.  

Clair McFarland

January 12, 20245 min read

Cottonwood Elementary School in Wright, Wyoming.
Cottonwood Elementary School in Wright, Wyoming. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The close-knit town of Wright, Wyoming, exploded in controversy this week over a dispute about whether a fourth-grade art teacher enabled students to view images of male-on-male sex acts.  

Just before Christmas break, Cottonwood Elementary School Principal Derek Barnhurst contacted a few parents and told them their 9- and 10-year-old students had seen inappropriate pictures in art class, three parents told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. The three parents were Luana Despot, Toni Haddenham and Joey Baham. Haddenham, however, said she did not receive a call from the principal.

About 30 parents questioned their kids, and they reportedly learned that fourth-grade teacher Holly Ricketts had featured pop-artist Keith Haring, then encouraged the children to seek out his art online.  

That led the children to Haring works featuring graphic depictions of male ejaculation and male sex acts, the parents told Cowboy State Daily. Several parents also voiced their outrage at a Tuesday meeting of the Campbell County School District Board of Trustees.  

“Our children were shown gay cartoon porn,” Haddenham told Cowboy State Daily. “I don’t know how else to describe it.” 

Some students described the pictures they’d seen to their parents, and the parents, typing those descriptions into a search bar, found images of male genitalia erect or amid sex acts, and one nude self-portrait by Haring, according to Haddenham’s summary and images she sent to Cowboy State Daily.   

Art Teacher Says It Was A Misunderstanding 

Ricketts protested the mass characterization of what happened that day in a Thursday post to a Wright Facebook group.  

She said she introduced Haring at the end of September and had a single website pulled up on the classroom board that was “100% kid friendly.”  

She directed the students to create a drawing with two characters showing movement, she said. Haring’s works emphasize bodily movement with characters in vivid poses and sketch-lines around the figures.  

“I SPECIFICALLY instructed the students to use the website I had on the board, not anything else,” Ricketts continued. “I never displayed any inappropriate pictures from this artist. … I honestly never observed the students seeing the inappropriate images, but I have 17 students in my room and I can’t watch all of them when I am assisting another, so it could have happened, and I just didn’t catch it.”  

Community members reacted with various degrees of anger and disbelief.  

Where It Gets Murky 

Haddenham, Despot and Baham told Cowboy State Daily that all 17 students’ stories about what happened that day matched up.  

The parents were able to confer easily because, “We’re wright Wyoming. Everybody knows everybody,” Despot said.

Baham said when he first heard from the principal, he figured it was a “simple” case of some boys Googling things they weren’t supposed to be seeing in art class.  

But as he questioned his 9-year-old daughter, the situation seemed more severe, he said.  

The kids didn’t want to emulate a Haring work on the class board, which Baham said was a well-known picture of people holding hands.  

“(Ricketts) said, ‘OK, go ahead and look up other ones from this artist,’” Baham related from his talk with his daughter. “And that’s when everything went south.” 

The boys in class started laughing and making a ruckus.  

Baham’s daughter later told him there were “some really bad pictures” on the tablets.  

At this point in his daughter’s narrative, Baham still figured this was an unfortunate accident.  

Then his daughter said the teacher came over and saw what the students were looking at.  

“She said to, ‘Ignore the bad ones and just find the good pictures,’” Baham related from his daughter’s account.  

Haddenham and Despot related the same alleged quote by Ricketts. 

That part of his daughter’s account was what troubled Baham, he said.  

“I would have snatched those tablets from every kid in there and said, ‘Hey, those are wrong,’” he said, adding that any failure to do that is “not normal behavior.”  

Silent School 

If Ricketts’ and the parents’ conflicting accounts of the incident can be reconciled, school authorities were in no hurry to do so publicly on Thursday.  

District Superintendent Alex Ayers did not return a Thursday midday voicemail by Friday morning. The school principal did not return a phone message.  

Ricketts also did not respond to a Cowboy State Daily message requesting comment.  

Kirby Eisenhauer, Campbell County School District deputy superintendent, told parents during the Tuesday school board meeting that he and others are looking into their concerns, the Gillette News Record reported.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter