Wyoming Supreme Court Won't Make District Build School In Remote Albany County

The Wyoming Supreme Court sided with a lower court Friday in denying a rural family’s request for a new schoolhouse to be built near a remote family ranch near Garrett, Wyoming.  

CM
Clair McFarland

January 26, 20244 min read

Anna and Carson Anderson, along with their children (Emmitt, 7, and Waverly, 4), live in an extremely isolated part of Albany County, more than an hour’s drive in good weather from the nearest school. They hope a one-room schoolhouse can be built on their property.
Anna and Carson Anderson, along with their children (Emmitt, 7, and Waverly, 4), live in an extremely isolated part of Albany County, more than an hour’s drive in good weather from the nearest school. They hope a one-room schoolhouse can be built on their property. (Photo Courtesy Anna Anderson)

The Wyoming Supreme Court sided with a lower court Friday in denying a rural family’s request for a new schoolhouse to serve their children on a remote family ranch near Garrett, Wyoming.  

In February 2019, Kenneth Carson and Anna Leigh Anderson asked Albany County School District No. 1 to open a new schoolhouse, the Buckle School, on the Andersons’ ranch within three years to serve the Andersons’ two young children.  

The ranch is situated near Garrett, which is 40 miles from a paved road which during the winter is known as “Little Siberia” because of the amount of snow it gets and very rural nature. Travel to the town can be lethal in winter, and snowplow trucks setting out from Rock River to Garrett can’t make the trip without refueling, according to court documents.  

Without the Buckle School, the children and their mother would have to move from their home to the town of Rock River, leaving the father alone on the family ranch, the Andersons argued in court.  

The Andersons had “numerous” conversations with Albany County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jubal Yennie (who has since resigned), negotiating the Buckle School’s opening for four years.  

The school board approved the school unanimously in a Feb. 9, 2022, vote after making a finding of extraordinary circumstances and financial hardship keeping the Anderson children from a public education. The school was set to open that fall, court documents say.  

The Andersons were reportedly set to sink $50,000 of their own money into the $300,000 project, and they had obtained a well permit for it.   

But Yennie wrote the family April 27, 2022, saying after talking with the Wyoming Department of Education, there would be no Buckle School after all.  

Brian Schroeder, who was Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction at the time, had denied the request to reconfigure the district for the rural school, citing great expense to taxpayers, advances in virtual education and the small number of students the rural school would benefit, court documents say.  

Not Making People Do Stuff 

The Andersons petitioned a state district court Sept. 19, 2022, asking the court to make the school district and the state Department of Education provide the rural school. 

They referenced the Wyoming Constitution’s promise of free public education.  

District Court Judge Dawnessa Snyder denied the Andersons’ request, saying she can grant a writ of mandamus – that is, she can compel people to do things – when the job she’s compelling someone to do is that person’s specific ministerial duty as an official.  

When education officials declined to build the Buckle School, it was contrary to the Andersons’ desired outcomes, but the officials didn’t cheat on doing their required duties, wrote Snyder. 

High Court Too 

The Andersons appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court, which reviewed the issue from the ground up.  

The high court agreed with Judge Snyder in its Friday order, saying the law allows education officials to use their discretion on whether it’s wise to build a rural school. It doesn’t create a right for anyone to access such a school.  

And while the Wyoming Constitution requires the Legislature to provide a complete, uniform and free public education system, it does not specifically require the construction of new rural schools, says the high court’s Friday opinion.  

“Nor do Petitioners present cogent argument or citation to pertinent legal authority supporting that this constitutional provision can be read to establish a ministerial duty to compel the formation of The Buckle School,” the order concludes.

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter