Bill Banning Wyoming Schools From Hiding Gender Transitions From Parents Advances

A legislative committee advanced a bill to the House floor Monday that would require schools to notify parents about changes in the health and emotional treatments their students get, including help with gender transitioning.

CM
Clair McFarland

February 26, 20247 min read

Rep. Martha Lawley, R-Worland, supports the Parental Rights In Education Act.
Rep. Martha Lawley, R-Worland, supports the Parental Rights In Education Act. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

A proposed Wyoming law requiring schools to notify parents about changes in students’ health and emotional wellbeing cleared its first House committee vote 6-3 on Monday and now advances to a debate on the House floor.

Senate File 9, the Parental Rights In Education Act, proposes a new law guaranteeing parents access to their children’s school health records. It also would require school personnel to tell parents when a student has a change in his physical, mental or emotional health. And it would provide a way for aggrieved parents to lodge complaints with the school district, then the board of education, then a court of law if necessary.

School nurses, teachers and administrators spoke against the bill Monday during its hearing in the House Education Committee, with some saying it’s too broad and could bring liability.

Others, including a mother of four and a former teacher, testified in favor of the bill, saying schools have gone too far in keeping secrets from parents.

Rep. Martha Lawley, R-Worland, voted in favor of the bill, saying it’s an attempt to articulate the constitutional right parents already have to dictate their children’s upbringing.

“The whole point of this particular bill is to help school districts navigate what that looks like,” said Lawley. “To comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that parents have a 14th Amendment Constitutional right to direct the education of their children.”

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, countered, calling the bill harmful and urging her colleagues to vote no.

“We want to bring legislation saying we should strip the rights of our children away?” said Provenza. “This conversation continues to be harmful. We continue to erase children.”

The Wyoming Senate passed the bill Friday. It now must weather three readings on the House floor and possible consent vote on its amendments from the Senate.

The Heart Of It

Most of the debate Monday revolved around the bill’s possible unintended consequences.

But some speakers addressed the bill’s actual intent: keeping schools from hiding major health changes from parents, like gender transitions.

Patricia McCoy, a mother of four in Cheyenne, said teachers and coaches “took it upon themselves to influence an impressionable 14-year-old girl,” her daughter, my helping her transition socially to presenting as a boy.

“We were made to be the enemy,” McCoy said about how the school counseled her daughter. “We were ostracized. She was told not to speak to us. She was given a binder and told to hide it from us.”

McCoy said though her daughter grew suicidal, she is now removed from those influences and is doing better.

She said she went to the coaches, principal and the school board.

“I did everything I was supposed to, as a parent, and I had every door shut in my face,” said McCoy.

She said the Legislature needs to “jump over” all those administrators by crafting a law.

‘Their Personal Business’

Lindsay Adam, a teacher and member of the Level Up Teacher Group, disagreed, saying gay or gender-nonconforming students sometimes do have safety concerns about telling their parents things.

“I think about my middle school and high school students who are struggling with gender identity, who are struggling with sexual orientation, they seek an adult who they find is safe,” said Adam. “It’s often not teachers. Hopefully, it is a school counselor, someone who’s trained in that.”

She said she’s worried counselors will be required to “break confidentiality” and tell parents when their children are struggling with same-sex attraction or other issues.

“This (bill) flies in the face of that – makes me feel … like I have to report to parents when their children are struggling, and that’s not my place,” said Adam. “They get to choose who knows their personal business.”

But First, Some Changes

Before passing it, however, the committee amended the bill at the request of Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne. Those changes will hold if the House ratifies them in its coming vote.

Brown, who is married to a school nurse and engaged in a back-and-forth with a former school nurse who came to testify, said the bill’s wording could create both harm and liability.

It contains a section saying districts must produce a list of “any health care services” they offer and give parents the chance to withhold consent from those services.

Brown proposed an amendment deleting that section, saying the word “any” could create an expectation that schools list every conceivable health condition — and a parent could be “aggrieved” if the district leaves off some stray condition.

Lawley opposed this amendment, saying that, “I didn’t know they could offer that many (treatments at school), but either way, the parents have a right to know.”

The committee approved Brown’s amendment.

Health Screening

The committee adopted another amendment at Brown’s request, striking a requirement that schools explain any health screenings to parents before performing them on kids.

He cited the commonplace nature of hearing and vision screenings. He also wondered how far the language could go – if it could delay or complicate a school’s reading comprehension tests because dyslexia is a health condition.

Rep. Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, agreed and presented a fresh concern; that a parent could opt his student out of health screenings because the parent is abusive and hopes the school doesn’t notice certain injuries.

Lawley voted against Brown’s amendment again, saying it could be used to hide things from parents.

“Parents have the right to make these decisions. They can’t make a decision they don’t know about,” said Lawley.

A Little About Abuse

The bill contains another provision to protect students who may be abused at home.

It says that “nothing in this section” can prevent a district from crafting policies letting personnel keep details from parents “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse.”

In other words, a teacher can keep a secret from a parent if he or she believes sharing that secret would lead to the child being abused.

The carveout invokes the “reasonably prudent person” standard, leaving it up to courts and juries, ultimately, to decide whether the teacher acted reasonably against that parent’s rights.

Another carveout in the bill would authorize emergency first aid and ambulances in case of "sudden need."

Meanwhile, Sweetwater County

Testimony about this bill often brings discussion of a federal lawsuit, Willey vs. Sweetwater County School District No. 1.

Two parents allege in that ongoing lawsuit that the school district crafted a policy requiring personnel to call their daughter by a boy name and pronouns, and to hide that treatment from the parents.

The mother, who is a teacher in a different school in the district, is also alleging the school violated her religious rights with that policy.

The judge overseeing the case issued a preliminary injunction blocking the school district from hiding its treatment from the parents. But he allowed the other half of that policy, requiring teachers to honor students’ name and pronoun requests, to remain in effect.

Brown, Obermueller and Provenza voted no on the bill.

The aye votes were from Lawley and Republican Reps. Lane Allred (Afton), Ocean Andrew (Laramie), Ryan Berger (Evanston), Ken Clouston (Gillette), and committee Chair Rep. David Northrup, (Powell).

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

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter