Gordon Allows "Frivolous" And "Superfluous" Parental Rights Bills To Go Into Law Without Signature

Saying the bills undermine local control and don't add much to parental rights already enshrined in law, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon allowed two parental rights bills regarding education to go into law without his signature.

Clair McFarland

March 23, 20244 min read

Gov. Mark Gordon says that as Wyoming continues to push to create its own stable token, the U.S. is losing a digital currency arms race with China.
Gov. Mark Gordon says that as Wyoming continues to push to create its own stable token, the U.S. is losing a digital currency arms race with China. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Two bills codifying parental rights protections into Wyoming’s public schools became law after Gov. Mark Gordon allowed them to pass without his signature.

Gordon didn’t House Bill 92 on Thursday, which requires schools to honor parents’ rights in their communication policies.

He also declined this month to sign Senate File 9, the Parental Rights In Education Act, saying it “neuters” the authority of locally-elected school boards, piles onto already existing federal law and could force some parents’ point of view on others.

Both laws go into effect July 1.

‘My Experience As A Parent’

SF 9 will require schools to notify parents of changes to their students’ mental health, which could include a newly voiced transgender identity, and it would ban the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity without prior approval.

Gordon explained his distaste for the bill in a March 5 letter to Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and referenced his own experience as a parent to four children who attended Johnson County School District No. 1.

“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,” wrote Gordon. “I was, in fact, very involved with my children’s education all through their time.”

Gordon also served as a school board member, he said, adding that he tried to foster transparency in that role.

State ‘Overreach’

Gordon also called SF 9 state-government overreach.

At best it adds meager protections to existing parental rights law, and at worst it lets government get between parents and kids and entitles some parents to force their point of view on others, he said.

Gordon said a people-run government should not be “neutering the authority of locally elected officials.”

Gordon said he is wary of the bill and its complexities, in particular surrounding individualized education plans and existing special education laws. Parents could, for example, choose to opt out of special education services under the new act, and that could create tension with special education law.

“Still, I recognize that parents want reassurance that they will retain their fundamental right to determine what is best for their children in health care as well as education,” he wrote. “I urge (the Legislature) to explore less broad-brushed approaches.”

This One’s Not As Hefty

The bill that became law Thursday, HB 92, carries fewer requirements than SF 9.

It specifies that parental rights already promised by federal case law and Wyoming state law also apply to public education with regard to how schools communicate with parents.

Gordon questioned whether it’s necessary.

“Introducing supplemental layers of legislation may inadvertently give rise to confusion and unnecessary bureaucracy, potentially detracting from the overarching objective of facilitating parental engagement as well as ensuring optimal outcomes for our children,” wrote Gordon in a Thursday letter to Secretary of State Chuck Gray.

Gordon said he understands the goals of HB 92, but believes people can reach those through locally tailored solutions and robust policies established by locally elected school boards.

Again, he pointed to his experience as a parent and former school board trustee.

He urged lawmakers to reassess whether they need such bills, “given the ample legal protections and fundamental rights of parents already established.”

Because, Rock Springs

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, sponsored HB 92 this session and said it would have prevented a calamity in his hometown that’s now an ongoing federal lawsuit.

A Rock Springs family is accusing Sweetwater County School District No. 1 of referring to their daughter by a boy name and pronouns behind their backs, and actively hiding it from them.

A federal judge blocked the school district from hiding such information from parents, saying it violates parents’ rights.

But other components of the case are still at issue in court.

When the Willey family first raised the issue publicly at a 2022 school board meeting months before they filed their lawsuit, the school district’s attorney countered by saying that Wyoming’s state-law guarantee of parental rights did not specify they applied to “education.”

Stith argued before a legislative committee this year that, had HB 92 been in effect then, it may have curbed the actions giving rise to the controversy.

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

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter