Schools Can’t Keep Info. From Parents As Gordon Lets Law Pass Without Signature

Gov. Mark Gordon let a bill pass without his signature Tuesday requiring Wyoming schools to notify parents about changes to their children’s health status and get permission to teach about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Leo Wolfson

March 07, 20247 min read

Gov. Mark Gordon
Gov. Mark Gordon (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Calling it a burden to Wyoming’s public schools, Gov. Mark Gordon let a bill pass into law without his signature Tuesday requiring Wyoming public schools to notify parents about changes to their children’s health status.

Senate Enrolled Act 8 also requires schools to get the permission of parents to teach their children about sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a letter to Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, Gordon questioned whether the law is necessary at this time, but also said he finds it to be constitutional.

“I struggle to see what additional value this bill brings for an individual parent and their child,” Gordon wrote.

The governor has the option of signing a bill into law, letting it pass into law without his signature and vetoing a bill. Gordon’s choice to let the bill pass into law without his signature is one way of not endorsing the bill, which he described as a “broad-brushed” approach.

“As has been my practice, I take this opportunity to enumerate problems I find in the legislation that, while not fatal, are certainly concerning,” Gordon wrote. “This legislation further burdens public schools.”

Current Law

Gordon cited current Wyoming law that states "the liberty of a parent to the care, custody and control of their child is a fundamental right that resides first in the parent.”

Additionally, the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act requires parental notification in the case of certain activities, including the collection or use of personal information, and the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment authorizes the rights of parents to determine their students’ participation in surveys and inspection of instructional material and certain physical exams.

Gordon said these laws are not inconsequential and there are significant repercussions for school districts that don’t follow them.

“Clearly, Wyoming laws, federal laws and local school board policies are already in place that broadly protect the rights of parents,” Gordon wrote.

Wyoming Needs A Nudge

State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, is co-chair of the Joint Education Committee that drafted the Parental Rights In Education bill. Scott said if these state and federal laws are relevant, school districts in Wyoming haven’t been following them.

Scott said he’s been made aware of a number of situations throughout the state where school districts took actions that ran contrary to parent’s desires.

“If current law handles it, there’s too many school districts that haven’t got the word,” he said. “If the governor thinks the current laws are adequate, he’s got to explain why the school districts aren’t paying attention to them.”

One of the main inspirations for SEA 8 was a Rock Springs couple who sued their local school district for allegedly helping their daughter socially transition to become a boy without informing them, and coercing teachers into secretly affirming transgender students.

Scott and Sen. Evie Brennan, R-Cheyenne said they’ve been informed of similar situations playing out in Laramie County School District 1 in Cheyenne.

“We see it in some of the districts tolerating indoctrination on some pretty sensitive issues,” Scott said.

What It Does

Gordon said he understands parents’ desire for reassurance to determine what’s best for their children’s health care and educational needs.

Parental Rights in Education requires schools to notify parents of changes in a student’s physical, mental or emotional health, and encourages students to discuss those issues with their parents or guardians. It also forbids schools from blocking access to students’ health or other records, and bans policies that would allow schools from keeping information from their parents.

Schools also would have to get permission from parents for most health screenings.

The bill contains an exception so that a school can still withhold information from parents if there’s a reasonable belief the child will be abused otherwise.

Local Control

Gordon also questions whether the law will impede local control and the rights of parents. He said a delicate balance should be maintained between state oversight and local control that upholds parental rights while respecting the rights of others and the authority of local school boards..

“Neutering the authority of locally elected officials and impeding their ability to effectively manage education policies runs contrary to the concept of representative government,” Gordon says in his letter.

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who supported the bill, told Cowboy State Daily that Gordon is more concerned about neutering local officials than the local officials who are “helping to neuter children.”

Steinmetz said Gordon makes the same arguments in his letter that Laramie Democratic Sen. Chris Rothfuss made in opposing the bill.

“Clearly the majority of the Republican Legislature agrees that parental rights in education must be strengthened,” Steinmetz said. “This is just one more issue the governor seems to have his head in the sand on. He is clearly out of touch with Wyoming citizens.”

Brennan agrees, and said she finds it sad Gordon won’t stand behind what she sees as parents’ basic rights.

“The governor seems to believe this notion that school board members and teachers know how to raise our children better than parents do,” she said. “This is simply not true. Parents — not teachers, school board members or superintendents — know each child best, the parent does.”

Scott said there have been too many school boards in Wyoming and around the nation that have defied the wishes of parents and constituents, knowing that few people run for school boards or pay close enough attention to these elections.

Further emboldening the school districts, Scott said, was the 2001 Campbell County School District decision challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

“If we had more people running for the school board that were good solid citizens, then we wouldn’t have to worry so much about it,” Scott said.

Gordon doesn’t believe the legislation improves parental rights.

“This legislation, in its current form, at best does little more to protect parent's rights than existing law,” Gordon wrote. “At worst, it has the potential to interpose government between parents and their children by opening a potential to disrupt this balance by creating an expectation that a few parents could force a point of view upon others who may not hold the same thereby infringing upon the rights of those other parents.”

A Growing Movement

A former Johnson County School District 1 board member, Gordon mentioned how these boards are elected by the public and must be held accountable by those who voted for them.

“I never had any reason to suspect the schools my children attended, or their teachers, or the administration ever sought to interfere with my relationship with my children,” Gordon wrote. “I was, in fact, very involved with my children's education all through their time.”

Gordon also expressed concerns that it could infringe on students with individualized education plans for special education students.

Increasing parental rights has been a major movement within conservative circles around the country, with national groups like Moms For Liberty striking a significant role in these efforts.

“Rather than confirming a parent's right and ability to guide the fortunes of their children, this law may actually enable the specter of a self-appointed group to exercise the very same sort of doctrinaire interference that this bill is ostensibly supposed to defeat,” Gordon wrote.

ACLU of Wyoming describes the bill as a mechanism to “out” gay, transgender or gender-nonconforming youth to their parents and a disguised form of discrimination against these individuals.

“Allowing Senate File 9 to pass into law without a signature is shameful and only reinforces the incorrect notion that transgender students are not entitled to the same dignity, respect and rights as all students,” said Antonio Serrano, advocacy director of ACLU of Wyoming in a Wednesday press release.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter