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Report: 65% Of Wyo Teachers Want To Leave Jobs

in News/Education
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Although a recent study showed that the majority of Wyoming teachers surveyed would leave their jobs if they could, a University of Wyoming professor does not think the outlook among teachers statewide is quite that bleak.

The University of Wyoming and Wyoming Education Association partnered to produce a survey that analyzed Wyoming teachers’ intent to leave the profession altogether.

Around 14% of the teachers surveyed said it was likely or very likely they would leave teaching, but more than 65% of the respondents said they wanted to leave.

“They want to leave, but they don’t want to leave,” Mark Perkins, associate professor of educational research, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “The majority of the teachers surveyed said they were proud to be teachers in Wyoming, so this shows they still consider themselves to be teachers but they want to leave because of other, peripheral matters.”

Over 700 teachers responded to the survey, with 70% answering it completely. The survey included more than 260 variables, such as teacher wellbeing, depression and anxiety.

Wyoming is not the only state suffering from a general malaise among teachers. Nationally, teachers have been leaving their jobs in droves, with the COVID-19 being one of the major reasons behind the shift, according to a report from The Hill.

Perkins ran some of the survey data through a processing software more than 15 times in order to confirm what he was seeing from the respondents.

He was not necessarily surprised there was dissatisfaction, but said the high numbers among surveyed teachers was a bit of a shock.

But Perkins noted that the data is only a subset of an entire state’s opinion and added that it is possible the most dissatisfied of teachers might have been more likely to take the survey.

“This is one of those examples where social science research produces ‘Captain Obvious’ results, because we’re seeing teachers aren’t feeling supported in their careers, which then makes them want to leave,” Perkins said. “Of course you’re not going to want to stay in a job where you don’t feel supported and it’s going to affect your mental health.”

Perkins pointed to growing workloads, the stress of assessments and the emotional weight of caring for dozens of children daily as being some of the reasons that teachers are being pushed to their breaking points.

Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) deputy superintendent Chad Auer told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that it was alarming to see such high numbers of dissatisfaction among these surveyed educators.

However, he was also grateful for the state-specific data, because it will allow the WDE to better address the issues Wyoming teachers are having.

“We need to have an understanding of what does this attrition look like for us here in Wyoming and what are the underlying factors,” Auer said. “When I look at this report, it is thorough, so I think we can take this data and turn it into dialogues about what Wyoming teachers need, so we can produce results.”

Perkins added that the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee recommended a similar survey be distributed among Wyoming educators next year to see how the data compares between the two years.

He recommended that school districts and state legislators focus on policies next session that will decrease heavy workloads, streamline assessments and improve educators’ mental health.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Megan Degenfelder told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that it was the current superintendent’s role to take all of the data and develop regional stakeholder groups to identify which issues exist in individual communities across the state.

“Based on this work, we then begin solving the problem and making recommendations for legislative changes,’ she said. “This effort will take considerable effort and won’t look the same in every community. But we can and we must do the work to ensure we have highly-qualified teachers in the state.”

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Wyoming Remains Divided Over Teachers Carrying Guns Debate

in Guns/News/Education
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In the wake of the Uvalde elementary school shooting last week, discussion has again started about whether or not teachers should be allowed to carry guns on school campuses.

At least one parent and one state organization have told Cowboy State Daily they do not feel teachers carrying guns will make schools any safer, but these are not the only voices out there.

Wyoming allows local school boards to decide whether or not its teachers are allowed to carry guns and at least two districts in the state have allowed it: Park County School District No. 6 and Fremont County School District No. 1.

Fremont’s carrying policy has been in place for about three years, while Park’s was adopted in August 2020.

Due to confidentiality reasons, the amount of teachers who carry could not be shared, as well as any of their names.

Tim Foley, interim superintendent of PCSD6, did confirm to Cowboy State Daily that there were staff members who did participate, though.

Uinta County School District No. 1 attempted to adopt a gun carrying policy, but was sued by Tiffany Eskelsen-Maestas, a parent of two students in the district.

She told Cowboy State Daily there are other, better, methods that can create long-lasting change and prevent violence from happening in the first place, something she said a gun cannot do.

“There are various intervention and prevention methods that consider risk and protective factors and, if not evidence-based, are promising practices,” she said on Wednesday. “They are comprehensive while supporting the emotional and physical well-being of students and faculty, not only in relation to gun violence but other possible types of violence.”

She is a gun owner, but believes there is a time and place for them and school is not one of them.

She added it was especially prudent for school districts to focus on programming that reduces and prevents violence.

“I believe school districts should be basing their decision-making on research just as it is required of students to fully research an issue and use evidence to support their position in their classes,” Eskelson-Maestas said. “I think we can do better for the lifetime health of Wyoming students and faculty by implementing comprehensive evidence-based and promising practices that reduce and prevent this violence.”

Congressional candidate Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, heavily promoted concealed carrying on school campuses, saying it makes schools safer.

“The statistics reveal, that permit holders can be trusted, even more so than the police,” Bouchard said last week. “We should ignore the left coast gun control crowd, instead Wyoming should follow the lead of [Utah].”

He added that gun-free zones kill. There have been several attempts by the Wyoming Legislature to repeal gun-free zones in the state, but all have failed so far.

The Wyoming Education Association (WEA) does not support teachers carrying guns, according to its legislative platform.

“WEA believes that only trained law enforcement officers should be allowed to carry firearms and/or other weapons in schools or on school property,” its platform said. “The WEA does not support public education employees carrying firearms and/or other weapons due to the demonstrated threat to school safety should staff become overpowered, should weapons be accessed by students or should weapons in schools be accidentally discharged.”

WEA President Grady Hutcherson called on Wyoming lawmakers last week to prioritize state schools by providing adequate funding to school districts to better secure entrances and update facilities. He also called for more and better access to mental health services.

2019 study by researchers at the University of Toledo and Ball State University reviewed 18 years of school security measures, including placing more armed teachers in schools, and found no evidence of reduced gun violence, according to Vox.

Other states that allow school employees to carry guns include Idaho, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota.

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Wyoming Trade Schools See Boom In Enrollment

in News/Education
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Trade schools in Wyoming and nationally are seeing a boom in enrollment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The operators of several Wyoming programs that train students for work in trades such as automotive and welding told Cowboy State Daily their enrollment numbers have skyrocketed over the last two years, with more and more people becoming interested in hands-on work that doesn’t require a four-year college degree.

Western Welding Academy

Western Welding Academy in Gillette only launched in late 2019, but has managed to increase its enrollment by more than 1,000% since then.

“When we started, we only had around eight students, but now, we have about 150,” welding instructor Danny Kiederling told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s a smaller campus, but if you look at the last two years, that’s a pretty big increase in quality of product.”

The majority of WWA’s courses last anywhere from five to seven weeks, although its most popular course, professional pipe welding, lasts six months.

Kierderling said he believes more people are turning to trade schools because they allow for a shorter time in school and larger paychecks after graduation.

“We have one student who did really well here and he holds the record for being a Western Welding Academy student who has brought home the biggest paycheck so far, $7,800 for one week,” he said. “He’s 19 years old. I think people are getting wise to that. There’s only so many lawyers you can have, but America runs on blue collar people who works with their hands.”

With nationwide shortages in trade workers and skilled laborers across the board, students essentially have their pick of jobs once they get out of trade school, operators of the schools said.

WyoTech

WyoTech, an automotive trade school in Laramie, was on the brink of bankruptcy when it was purchased by a team of Wyoming natives in 2018. Around that time, there were only 26 students enrolled at the college.

As of last fall, 685 students were enrolled, an increase of more than 2,000%. Of all the trade schools in Wyoming, WyoTech is one of the oldest, having opened in 1966.

“The growth of WyoTech, as well as other trade and vocational schools across the nation, is a sign of the changing times within the U.S. job market,” WyoTech President Jim Mathis said. “There has been a growing emphasis on skilled labor, as those jobs remain unfilled the longest.”

WyoTech will be expanding its current facilities by 90,000 square feet within the next year, due to the large amount of growth it has seen in just three years.

Its programs last around nine months and focus on either automotive technology, collision repair or diesel technology. The short programs not only allow for students to enter the workforce in a shorter time period, but also generate less student debt that one would at a typical four-year university.

Mathis also noted that by the time WyoTech students graduate from the nine-month program, they will have three years’ worth of industry experience.

Wind Energy

Laramie County Community College, which has campuses in Cheyenne and Laramie, has several trade programs, including for welding, automotive and diesel technology and wind energy.

LCCC spokeswoman Lisa Trimble told Cowboy State Daily that the wind energy program is actually being retooled and will change from being offered as an associate’s degree to a “credit diploma,” shortening the class time from two years to 10 months. The revised program will be active for the 2023-2024 academic years, Tshe said..

“The hope is to draw more students who are interested in learning the trade and going to work as soon as possible,” Trimble said. “COVID-19 hurt the wind program since most of the students in the program come from out of state.”

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Wyoming Economist, Former Legislator Differ On Student Loan Debt Cancellation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming economist and attorney are at odds over whether the cancellation of the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student loan debt would be a good thing.

In late February, the former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King called on President Joe Biden to cancel the student loan debt that hangs over the heads of about 42 million.

The average student loan debt is around $36,000. The federal government issues and owns about 92% of the nation’s student loan debt.

Economist and state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, told Cowboy State Daily earlier this month that if Biden were to cancel student loan debt, it could set a troubling example.

“It’s kind of a bad precedent to think you can go to college, borrow lots of money and expect it to be forgiven,” he said. “From an economic point of view, this would probably lead you to over-borrow and buy too much education, if you have the expectation that it’s going to be forgiven.”

Case added that people who go into debt might have the expectation that other loans might be forgiven, such as credit card or mortgage debt.

“It strikes me that people need to make better decisions about education,” Case said. “It’s really expensive and it’s not for everybody. I think a lot of people underestimate what a university education is going to cost compared to what it’s really worth to them.”

Case also questioned if Biden had the authority to make a move such as canceling student loan debt.

During the 2020 presidential campaign and early in his presidency, Biden said he would be open to eliminating at least $10,000 in student debt per borrower. According to The Hill, other prominent lawmakers have called on him to act on this promise, as well as increase the limit up to $50,000 per borrower.

Laramie attorney and former legislator Charles Pelkey told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that by canceling even some student debt, the impact on the economy will be positive.

“Look at what’s happened with the student loan payment deferral, families have been able to buy homes or help with daycare costs,” he said. “These are people who were paying anywhere from 10% to 20% of their monthly income on student loan debt beforehand.”

While he understood Case’s concerns about the precedent student loan debt cancellation could set, Pelkey thought the idea of limiting the cancellation only to student loans and capping the amount, as proposed, was a good one.

Pelkey said he believes education should be free, but in the same way fire services and public roads are technically free.

“It’s not free, but it’s a cost we should all bear in society, because we do benefit from having an educated workforce,” he said.

A moratorium on student loan payments was enacted during former President Donald Trump’s administration after the coronavireus pandemic hit and it has been extended several times since Biden took office.

Biden has canceled some student loan debt, although his actions were aimed largely at marginalized populations such as people with disabilities, those who work in public service and people who were defrauded by their institutions, particularly those who enrolled in for-profit colleges.

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No Critical Race Theory Bills Made It Through 2022 Wyoming Legislative Session

in News/Legislature/Education
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The three pieces of legislation related to the controversial topic of critical race theory that were proposed in the Wyoming Legislature this session have all died.

Senate File 103 was the third and last of the bills that was still working its way through the legislative process, but ultimately failed to win a review from the House on Tuesday in time to be considered for this session.

SF103 would have banned all schools and colleges that are supported in any manner by public funds from teaching “divisive tenets often described as a critical race theory that inflames divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the wellbeing of the state of Wyoming and its residents.”

The bill was co-sponsored by five senators, including Sens. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne.

With the killing of all three critical bills aimed at restricting the teaching critical race theory, Bouchard told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that Wyoming may lose its designation as a “red state.”

“By contrast, Florida’s Legislature regularly passes conservative legislation and before the ink dries, Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it,” Bouchard said.

Another piece of legislation, House Bill 97, would have prevented any teacher, administrator or school employee from using public money for instruction that assigns any blame or judgment for societal developments on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, color or national origin.

HB97 sponsor Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily that is was disappointing and disturbing that all three of the CRT bills were killed this session.

“Critical race theory is totally inconsistent with our Wyoming values,” Gray said. “I plan on continuing to work on banning critical race theory.”

While debating HB97, Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, gave a brief, impassioned speech about why his colleagues should not move the bill forward.

“This bill…states the teaching of history must be neutral and without judgment. Now, how can that be possible?” Schwartz said. “If I were a Native American, I doubt I could accept the neutral, judgment-free approach about the relocation and decimation of the Indigenous population. I’m Jewish, I cannot accept the neutral, judgment-free approach on the murder of 6 million Jews in World War II.”

Schwartz told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that teaching history has great value, but with that, educators must look at both the good and bad points of history.

“Everything’s not always good, our founding fathers were not perfect,” Schwartz said. “To be able to teach both sides, you can’t be constrained.”

He said that HB97 would have constrained teachers, which is why he argued against it earlier in the session. He added that it is not the job of the Wyoming Legislature to decide what is taught in K-12 schools.

The “Civics Transparency Act,” which would have required online publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state, died on a vote of 5-4 in the House Education Committee earlier this week.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

The Saratoga school district’s board of trustees voted in October to ban the teaching of critical race theory in its schools.

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Civics Transparency Bill Dies In Wyoming House Education Committee

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have required teachers to post their class materials online for public view has died in a Wyoming House of Representatives committee meeting.

The “Civics Transparency Act,” which would have required online publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state, died on a vote of 5-4 in the House Education Committee.

The bill was rejected by the committee after several speakers criticized it as an unwarranted burden on the state’s teachers.

Wyoming Education Association president Grady Hutcherson said that the bill had an unintended consequence of demoralizing teachers in the state.

“It’s an insult to me as a professional, that I have to be micromanaged to this level,” he told the education committee. “We know that this bill is supposed to be about transparency. We wholeheartedly believe in transparency. We know the value of the parents’ involvement in the education process.

“Parents could come into my classroom anytime they wanted,” he continued. “So all of these things are already in place. That’s why the unintended consequence of this transparency bill is more about political rhetoric than being respectful of professional educators.”

Tim Mullen, government relations director with the Wyoming Department of Education, raised similar points. He also pointed out that there could be undue burden not only on Wyoming’s teachers, but its administrators, with trying to implement this new law into the schools.

“The idea that we don’t have transparency, or there’s a problem with transparency, in the state of Wyoming, we believe that nothing could be further from the truth,” Mullen said.

The bill was killed despite testimony from bill co-sponsor Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, that the bill is all about transparency in Wyoming’s education.

“What this bill is, is what the title says: transparency,” Driskill said. “Transparency means you put it up where you find it. I admire our teachers in what they do, unabashedly. Does this mean we shouldn’t be transparent in the materials we’re using?”

The bill was related to the critical race theory debate that was sparked last fall.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed guidelines for American history and civics education grant programs which encourage schools to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

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Bill Requiring Teachers To Post Class Materials Online Clears Wyoming Senate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill aimed at preventing the teaching of critical race theory by requiring teachers to post online the teaching materials they use in class cleared the Wyoming Senate on Monday.

Senate File 62, the “Civics Transparency Act” has now been sent to the Wyoming House of Representatives for introduction sometime this week. It passed the Senate without debate on its third reading Monday on a vote of 18-12.

The legislation would require online publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state.

“This bill has been portrayed as a huge bill, and it’s actually a pretty simple little bill,” co-sponsor Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said when the bill was introduced. “It does something we all look for all the time in this body, which is transparency and accountability.”

The bill is related to the critical race theory debate that was sparked last fall.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Rather than an outright ban on critical race theory, Driskill said SF62 would require schools to post an online description of materials are being used to teach so members of the public have a chance to give some input on those materials.

“It doesn’t say what they can use for materials, all it says is they have to put them online so parents and certain citizens can look at them and see what we’re doing,” Driskill said. “Controversial materials are really a good thing in our youth, as long as they’re balanced and they get a chance to see both sides.”

Driskill said he knew a balanced approach would not always be possible, but that learning about controversial subjects and opposing viewpoints made for well-rounded adults.

He also pointed out that no teachers would be penalized for not putting their materials online and that he did not want to affect teachers’ ability to teach. Rather, he just wanted educators to be transparent about what they were using for lessons.

The Civics Transparency Act was actually proposed last fall by Driskill and Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. It was also endorsed by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed guidelines for American history and civics education grant programs which encourage schools to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

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Senate Passes Bill Banning Critical Race Theory, Now Headed To House

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would prevent the teaching of critical race theory in Wyoming won final approval from the Senate on Wednesday and sent to the House of Representatives.

Senate File 103 passed the Senate on a vote of 25-4.

The bill states that all schools and colleges that are supported in any manner by public funds shall not teach “divisive tenets often described as a critical race theory that inflames divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the wellbeing of the state of Wyoming and its residents.”

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, told his colleagues during the floor debate that the bill does not limit what instructors can teach when it comes to dark events in history, such as slavery and the Holocaust, just that they cannot teach it in certain ways.

“The bill spells out what we’re not going to do when teaching history,” Biteman said. “Their instructional personnel may facilitate discussions and use curricula to address, in an age-appropriate manner, topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation and racial discrimination.”

The bill was amended before the debate on Wednesday to add clarifying language about how children should be taught sensitive subjects, with the amendment stating that instruction on those topics and any supporting materials should be consistent with certain principles of individual freedom, such as the idea that no person is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, voiced his opposition to the amendment during the debate.

“When I read [the amendment] now, it does start to sound like there’s an agenda,” he said. “No doubt many members of this Senate agree with every statement on this page, but that’s not our responsibility to determine what is truth. It’s scary when this Legislature gets to determine what is truth. It’s very much outside the bounds of inappropriate legislative action when we are dictating truth through statute.”

Biteman said he intent of his amendment was the opposite of critical race theory and added the reason the bill itself was brought forward to begin with was to stop teaching children that one race is inherently better than the other.

“If we allow critical race theory in our schools, Martin Luther King, everything he fought for is out the window if we allow that kind of poison in our schools,” he said.

The bill is co-sponsored by five senators, including Biteman, Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

SF103 is the third CRT-related bill that has been proposed this legislative session. One that outright banned the teaching of the theory, House Bill 97, failed to win introduction last week.

The third bill, the “Civics Transparency Act,” which would require teachers to share online the materials they use to teach for review by parents and community, has been introduced and referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed guidelines for American history and civics education grant programs which encourage schools to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

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After Bus Driver Fails DUI Test, Cheyenne Schools Implementing New Training

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Cheyenne school district is implementing a new round of mandatory drug and alcohol awareness training after one of its bus drivers was arrested last week for driving under the influence while transporting students out-of-state.

Laramie County School District No. 1 spokeswoman Mary Quast told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the training would be put in place within the next couple of weeks.

In response to last week’s incident, the Transportation Department is instituting new mandatory drug and alcohol awareness training within the next couple of weeks,” she said. “In about a month, the Transportation Department is introducing an annual recertification class for drug and alcohol awareness that all existing drivers will be required to take.”

The annual recertification class will become part of the training that existing bus drivers are required to take every August during their three-day in-service training prior to the start of the school year.

Quast did note that in order to obtain a commercial drivers license and serve as an LCSD1 bus driver, drivers must go through at least six weeks of training of a variety of subjects, including drug and alcohol awareness. This is required for drivers to obtain their CDL.

David Richard Williams, 60, was arrested by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper last week for driving under the influence and possession of open container while operating a moving vehicle while transporting students to a speech and debate tournament in Spearfish, South Dakota.

He was stopped, failed a field sobriety test and was then arrested.

Quast said that the morning after the arrest, LCSD1 transportation Administrator Adam Greenwood met with all the district bus drivers in person to re-emphasize the importance of student safety.

LCSD1 officials have not commented specifically about the arrest, citing personnel reasons.

“At Laramie County School District 1 student safety is our priority,” Superintendent Margaret Crespo said last week. “In every instance, while we have  students in our care and a situation occurs, we will act first to ensure our kids remain safe. After this occurs, we switch to communication mode.”

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Hot Springs School District Removes Facebook Post Showing Students Using Air Rifles After Some Found it “Offensive”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A picture of Thermopolis students participating in an air rifle program caused some controversy online after it went viral last week, prompting the Hot Springs County School District No. 1 to remove the photo from social media.

Last week, the district shared a photo of some fifth- and sixth- grade students from Thermopolis Middle School working on their marksmanship with air rifles.

“Mr. Deromedi’s 5/6th PE classes are working on their marksmanship with air rifles!” the now-deleted post stated. “All students passed their safety test and have been sharpening their skills.”

Without explaining why the school district removed the post, Superintendent Dustin Hunt said he regretted that it was “found offensive by others.”

“As a small rural Wyoming community with a K-12 district of 681 students, we maintain social media pages primarily to celebrate our students and inform our patrons,” Superintendent Dustin Hunt said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our intent is to simply share the excellent work being done by our students and staff and we regret that any of our content is found offensive by others.”

When the post went viral, accumulating more than 66,000 shares and 6,000 comments, it attracted a mix of comments both supportive and critical of children being taught marksmanship.

As to its removal, however, the superintendent’s office has not returned Cowboy State Daily’s phone call asking why.

Republican Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Aaron Nab chimed in, however, condemning the decision to remove the post.

“Hot Springs County School District made this post on their Facebook last week and now the post is gone, most likely due to some people being cry babies,” Nab said Tuesday. “I fully support what the District was doing with this. This needs to be going on in schools across Wyoming.”

Hunt said the air rifle program has been in place at the middle school for seven years, but other firearm and archery units and programs have been a part of the school and community for much longer.

“The air rifle unit is three weeks in length and part of a larger lifetime activity-based physical education program,” he said. “Students wishing to not participate in any unit including the air rifle unit are offered an alternative assignment. To date, no students have requested an alternate unit or assignment. The district has also not fielded any parent complaints regarding the air rifle unit.”

Wyoming allows gun safety courses to be taught in public schools.

Hunt also pointed out that in Wyoming, the vast majority of households have firearms and said it was important for students to safely learn about and respect things they will encounter in their everyday lives.

“In Wyoming our residents spend a good portion of their lives outdoors for recreation and work,” he said. “It is important to teach students skills in physical education that support their development in the lifetime activities that are common and prevalent in our community and state. Our state has a proud hunting/outdoor heritage with significant participation from youth residents.”

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Schroeder Sworn In As Wyoming Superintendent Of Public Instruction

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After more than two weeks of controversy, Wyoming has a new education chief.

Brian Schroeder was sworn in as the superintendent of public instruction on Friday afternoon. He will finish outthe unexpired term of former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, which ends in serve in January 2023.

Schroeder was chosen by Gov. Mark Gordon last week after interviews with three potential candidates who were nominated for the job by the Wyoming Republican Party.

“I reviewed application materials and conducted interviews with all the candidates that came through the selection process, and after much prayer and careful consideration I have determined that Brian Schroeder is best-suited to fill the Superintendent’s position,” Gordon said last week after announcing Schroeder’s appointment.

“Brian demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that parents are intricately involved in their children’s education, just as it should be. I will work to ensure a smooth transition in leadership for the Wyoming Department of Education,” he added.

Schroeder is a longtime educator who has worked in California, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming, serving most recently as the head of Veritas Academy. a private Christian school in Cody. He has also worked as a family and youth counselor for nearly 20 years and spent nearly a decade in pastoral ministry.

“I am honored and humbled beyond words at this incredible opportunity to serve the students, teachers and parents of Wyoming,” Schroeder said. “I’ll do my best to help strengthen education for the future of our state.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Maranatha Baptist University and holds a masters degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University.

In his application for the position, Schroeder spoke of the importance of schools to society.

“The local American schoolhouse is uniquely poised to be both an extension of and support for the American home as well as an incubator for and bridge to American society,” he wrote in his application for the job.

“There is, therefore, no work on earth more important than what we do as teachers (outside of parenting, of course), which makes the top teacher job in the state all the more critical by way of providing the necessary leadership and direction to our schools,” he wrote.

Schroeder is replacing Balow, who abruptly resigned in mid-January to take a similar, but appointed, position with the state of Virginia.

lawsuit was filed last week challenging the constitutionality of the process used by the Republican party to winnow down the 12 applicants for the job to three finalists and a temporary restraining order was requested to block Gordon from appointing a successor to Balow. However, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl denied the request, allowing Gordon to choose a new superintendent.

Proceedings on the lawsuit itself will continue even though the request for the temporary restraining order was denied.

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Schroeder Appointed To Wyoming Superintendent Of Public Instruction

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A longtime educator who is now the head of a private school in Cody has been selected Wyoming’s new superintendent of public instruction, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday.

Gordon said Brian Schroeder will finish out the unexpired term of Jillian Balow, who resigned earlier this month to take over as superintendent of schools in Virginia.

“I reviewed application materials and conducted interviews with all the candidates that came through the selection process, and after much prayer and careful consideration I have determined that Brian Schroeder is best-suited to fill the Superintendent’s position,” Gordon said.

“Brian demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that parents are intricately involved in their children’s education, just as it should be. I will work to ensure a smooth transition in leadership for the Wyoming Department of Education,” he added.

Schroeder is a longtime educator who has worked in California, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming, serving most recently as the head of Veritas Academy in Cody. He has also worked as a family and youth counselor for nearly 20 years and spent nearly a decade in pastoral ministry.

“I am honored and humbled beyond words at this incredible opportunity to serve the students, teachers and parents of Wyoming,” Schroeder said. “I’ll do my best to help strengthen education for the future of our state.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Maranatha Baptist University and holds a masters degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University.

In his application for the position, Schroeder spoke of the importance of schools to society.

“The local American schoolhouse is uniquely poised to be both an extension of and support for the American home as well as an incubator for and bridge to American society,” he wrote in his application for the job.

“There is, therefore, no work on earth more important than what we do as teachers (outside of parenting, of course), which makes the top teacher job in the state all the more critical by way of providing the necessary leadership and direction to our schools,” he wrote.

Schroeder was one of three candidates selected by the Wyoming Republican Party central committee over the weekend to interview with Gordon. About a dozen candidates applied Balow’s position, including former legislators and educators.

A lawsuit was filed this week challenging the constitutionality of the selection process and a temporary restraining order was requested to block Gordon from appointing a successor to Balow. However, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl denied the request earlier Thursday, allowing Gordon to choose a successor.

Proceedings on the lawsuit itself will continue even though the request for the temporary restraining order was denied.

RELATED: Despite Failed Lawsuit, Plaintiffs Hope Legislature Will Change Nomination Process for Vacant Seats

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Gordon Opposes Halt On Superintendent Pick, Says He’s Upholding The Law

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is asking a federal court to allow him to follow Wyoming law and proceed with the appointment of a new superintendent of public instruction.

Gordon, in a court brief filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, asked Judge Scott Skavdahl to deny a request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent him from appointing a new superintendent to finish out the term of Jillian Balow in accordance with state law.

“As the duly elected governor of the state of Wyoming, Gov. Gordon has taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state …” the brief said. “Thus, Gov. Gordon’s interest in this matter is to comply with Wyoming law and fulfill his duties as the governor.”

Balow resigned earlier this month to take a similar job in Virginia.

Under state law, Gordon is to appoint a replacement by midnight Thursday from a list of nominees provided by the central committee of the Wyoming Republican Party.

The party’s central committee on Saturday selected three nominees from a field of 12 applicants.

However, the selection process is being challenged by a bipartisan group of Wyoming residents in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleges that the selection process used by the central committee violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions.

According to the lawsuit, because the central committee is made up of three representatives of each county, when making decisions such as selecting nominees for the superintendent’s job, counties with smaller populations have a disproportionately large influence on the outcome.

The process violates the concept of “one man, one vote,” according to the lawsuit.

The request for a temporary restraining order aimed at blocking Gordon from acting on the vacancy was filed at the same as the lawsuit.

Skavdahl was expected to rule on the request by noon Thursday.

Gordon, in his brief opposing the order, noted that the lawsuit challenges the way the GOP selects nominees, not the way he selects replacements for statewide office.

“Even so, the governor does have an interest in being able to exercise his required duties under Wyoming statute as well as in seeing a vacancy in an executive branch office filled expeditiously,” the filing said.

The nominee selection process within the party does not violate the “one man, one vote” rule as alleged in the lawsuit, the brief said.

“This statutory process did not deprive Wyoming voters of fair and effective representation, regardless of the procedure the committee followed to select the nominees,” it said.

A temporary restraining order is often issued when it is likely that a lawsuit will be successful. Gordon’s brief, however, said it is unlikely the plaintiffs will succeed, so the restraining order should not be issued.

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Eathorne Calls Plaintiffs In Superintendent Lawsuit “RINOs,” “Cheney Supporters”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne lashed out Wednesday at the multiple plaintiffs who brought a lawsuit against the party over the way it selected nominees for an open statewide office, calling them “RINOs” and “Cheney supporters.”

Eathorne noted the lawsuit filed Tuesday took aim at the party for following state rules that have been in place for decades for picking nominees to fill open state offices.

“Grassroots Republicans are being sued, by Democrats and a handful of self-important RINOs and (U.S. Rep. Liz) Cheney supporters, for following the law and completing its role in sending 3 names to the Governor so he can fill the vacancy created when Jillian Balow resigned, the same way elected official vacancies have been filled for decades in our state,” Eathorne said.  

Balow resigned as superintendent of public instruction earlier this month to take a similar position in Virginia. Under Wyoming law, Gov. Mark Gordon is to select a replacement to finish her unexpired term — which runs until January 2023 — from a list of three nominees submitted by the Wyoming Republican Party’s central committee.

The lawsuit alleges that because the central committee is made up of three representatives from each county, counties with smaller populations have a greater influence over such decisions than counties with large populations, a violation of the equal protection clause of the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions.

Eathorne said on Wednesday that for the plaintiffs, the situation was not about the Constitution, but about control.

“If you ever wondered what Wyoming’s self-appointed good ol’ boys club looks like, this is it – former and current newspaper owners, Democrats, high-level university administrators, former legislators, wealthy elite, self-important Cheyenne lawyers, and all represented by Democrat (Former Gov. Dave) Freudenthal’s former Attorney General, Pat Crank,” he said.

He added that the plaintiffs had one thing in common: none of them were currently elected to serve Wyoming Republicans.

“They represent Wyoming’s past, full of smoky back rooms and political side deals,” Eathorne said. “They cannot stand that the Wyoming Republican grassroots has risen up and can outvote the lobbyists and lawyers who have controlled Wyoming politics in the past. These are the same people who support Liz Cheney, fight to preserve the ability for Democrats to crossover and interfere in Wyoming Republican primaries, vigorously oppose runoff elections, and seek to tear down and defeat Conservative principles.”

The party’s central committee selected three nominees for Gordon’s consideration from a field of 12 applicants during a meeting Saturday.

Gordon interviewed the three Tuesday and, by law, is to select a replacement for Balow by midnight Thursday. Gordon has been ordered by a federal judge not to make the selection before midnight Thursday to give the parties in the lawsuit a chance to comment on a request for a temporary restraining order that would block Gordon from picking any of the nominees.

Eathorne said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit view certain Republicans as “pawns on their chess board who are expendable in the service of their king.”

“The current leaders of the Wyoming Republican Party view grassroots Republicans much differently,” Eathorne said. “We view you as our friends and neighbors, the voters who elected precinct men and women all over the State, who have worked hard and tamed this western landscape we call home. We have held town halls to encourage the grassroots all over the State to let their voices be heard on issues important to their communities, about Liz Cheney’s treasonous behavior, and the overreaching COVID shutdown of Wyoming’s small business, churches, and gathering places.”

He added that the plaintiffs have argued an unelected bureaucrat should remain in Balow’s position instead of adhering to the process set forth in law to fill the vacancy. Eathorne pointed out that Kari Eakins, the interim superintendent, is a Democrat, which she has been registered as since 2010.

“At a time when Wyoming needs this Superintendent to stand up to Joe Biden’s radical agenda and defend Wyoming’s children, they want an unelected Democrat to fill that role rather than follow a statutory process that they have never complained about before,” Eathorne said.

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Federal Judge Tells Governor Not To Appoint New Superintendent

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Gov. Mark Gordon not to appoint a new superintendent of public instruction until at least midnight Thursday.

Judge Scott Skavdahl ordered a brief halt to the process of appointing a new superintendent until he can hear arguments on a temporary restraining order that would block Gordon from naming a new superintendent from a list of three nominees he was given by the Wyoming Republican Party.

“Having conferred with counsel for the parties, and in order to allow and consider input from all defendants, it is hereby ordered that Governor Gordon shall not fill the vacant position of superintendent of public instruction with any candidate forwarded to him by the (Republican Party) …” the order said.

Skavdahl said a decision on the temporary restraining order will be issued before midnight Thursday, which is the deadline under state law for Gordon to appoint a new superintendent.

The order stems from a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Wyoming Republican Party and its chairman Frank Eathorne by 16 individuals, including a number of former legislators, alleging that the system the party used to select nominees for the post is unconstitutional.

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow resigned earlier this month to take a similar position in Virginia. Under Wyoming law, Gordon is to select a replacement to finish her unexpired term — which runs until January 2023 — from a list of three nominees submitted by the Wyoming Republican Party.

The party’s central committee, made up of three representatives from each county, selected three nominees for Gordon’s consideration from a field of 12 applicants during a meeting Saturday.

But the lawsuit, filed by former Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank, said giving each county three representatives violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions because it gives counties with small populations more influence in such decisions than counties with large populations.

A request for a temporary restraining order filed with the lawsuit asked that Gordon be prevented from selecting a replacement for Balow from the list of nominees submitted by the party because the nominees were selected in an unconstitutional manner.

Skavdahl’s order prohibits Gordon from acting on the nominees, who he interviewed Tuesday, until the judge can issue a decision on the request for a temporary restraining order.

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Investigation Underway As Parents, Players Accuse Cheyenne Football Coach of Bullying, Retaliation

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The parents of some Cheyenne Central High School football players have been joined by two legislators in asking Laramie School District No. 1 to look into allegations of bullying and excessive verbal abuse by a coach toward student athletes at Central.

At least two parents also allege that after they told Central High administrators about their concerns surrounding Michael Apodaca, their children were targeted for retribution — prompting them to ask the school district itself to look into the allegations. 

The lack of response by Cheyenne Central also moved Sen. Affie Ellis and Rep. Jared Olsen, both R-Cheyenne, to voice their concerns in a Nov. 30 letter to district Superintendent Margaret Crespo.

In their joint letter, the legislators said they had received “multiple reports” from parents of student athletes regarding Apodaca’s conduct.

“Parents have expressed a lack of trust in the administrative process for addressing bullying complaints, and thus, have asked for our help to find protection for their children from an improper culture of harassment occurring on school grounds by Laramie County School District #1 (district) staff,” they said in the letter. 

These complaints specifically, they continued, were related to “numerous reports that student athletes were subjected to abusive and personally degrading verbal attacks that went far beyond anything that could be construed as providing constructive athletic coaching.”

The legislators added although the abuse was seemingly targeted at select students, the whole team by extension suffered under a “persistent, abusive environment of harassment which affected every student athlete who witnessed such abuse.”

The letter continued to say Central High School Principal Fred George and Athletic Director Chad Whitworth took no action to resolve the issue, to the best of the legislators’ knowledge. Instead, athletes allege they were retaliated against for their parents’ complaints, including having their playing time reduced or being benched entirely.

Apodaca’s actions, the legislators said, were in violation of Wyoming’s Safe School Climate Act that prohibits harassment, intimidation or bullying. 

Ellis told Cowboy State Daily that she had been contacted by at least three different parents who voiced concern that the process for looking into complaints about the coach was not being followed.

She added the retaliatory action taken against select students prompted her to intervene.

“We try to be respectful of local decisions and local school boards,” Ellis said, “but as a legislator, I thought it was appropriate to ask the district to weigh in given the parents’ need to stay anonymous out of fear of retaliation against their student athletes.”

Olsen, in a post on his Facebook page, said if the issue is not “properly addressed,” lawmakers may be prompted to take action to amend the Safe School Climate Act.

“The Wyoming Legislature is proud of its longstanding history against student harassment, intimidation, and bullying,” he wrote. “If there are gaps in our laws which fail to adequately protect our students, we need to make it a priority to address those gaps as soon as possible.”

Central High School Principal Fred George told Cowboy State Daily that the administration does not comment on any personnel issues. 

“Egregious” Bullying

Speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear that his son will be retaliated against, one father said his son was subject to “pretty egregious bullying” that went beyond what might be construed as productive feedback.

“(The coach) would embarrass or humiliate the kids for things that were unrelated to football and would do it in the locker room or on or off the field,” he said.

This included calling a player “dumb” or attacking an overconfident player by exposing his vulnerabilities in targeted attacks aimed at demeaning and embarrassing him in front of the other students.

Another father, who also asked to remain anonymous for the sake of his son’s position on the team, said he isn’t sure how many players were targeted though he personally knew of more than half a dozen. 

Both men said the verbal comments from the coach went far beyond what could reasonably be construed as constructive.

“He (Apodaca) exerted power and beat these kids down to the point that made them not sure how to feel about themselves as young men,” one father said.

It’s had a lasting impact that his son will feel for the rest of his life, he said, and his son is still visibly angry and rocked by the demeaning nature of the experience.

“It’s not just a lost or losing season,” he said. “My son missed out on an opportunity to have a positive mentor in a football coach, and he will always remember it for the wrong reasons.”

Several kids quit the team over the course of the season, he added, while others – including parents – were afraid to speak up.

Anonymous Surveys

Those parents and student athletes voiced their concerns about Apodaca and his coaching style in the end-of-season surveys that are regularly filled out and shared with the district.

Both of the fathers interviewed for this article said they had discussed the survey with their sons and other parents and players and all had agreed to be honest about their experiences.

At least one parent hired legal counsel to file a public records request with the school district on Dec. 8 asking for any documents containing one of five key phrases, including “Apodaca bullying, Cheyenne Central football bullying, Apodaca inappropriate, Apodaca intimidation and Apodaca parent complaint.” The request also asked for the results of the anonymous surveys. 

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one parent responsible for hiring legal counsel to initiate the request said it was done as a precaution to ensure that all information the public is entitled to review is made available.

“This school district has struggled with transparency in the past, particularly with personnel matters,” that parent said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. “Due to the severity of bullying we’ve experienced from the football coach, we used every tool possible to ensure public oversight of our taxpayer funded program.”  

An initial response sent Jan. 5 from the district’s counsel, O’Kelley H. Pearson, rejected the request for the survey results, saying the survey revealed concerns with the Cheyenne Central football coaching staff that led to an employee evaluation.

It added that concerns regarding staff conduct were raised before the survey was conducted, resulting in an investigation into alleged violations of personnel policies. 

As a result, Pearson wrote, the survey results can be withheld under Wyoming’s Public Records Act because they deal with a personnel issue.

On the issue of documents sought using the key phrases, the district said its search of the terms identified revealed no documents containing any of the phrases.

However, L. Cooper Overstreet, legal counsel representing the public records request for the undisclosed client, said Monday that he’s already been in touch with the district’s counsel and believes they will soon reach an agreement regarding the request.

“Initially, there was some push back,” Overstreet said, “but we’re hopeful that we’ve made some progress since their response on Jan. 5.”

To this end, Overstreet cited the June 2019 Albany County District Court ruling in favor of several Wyoming media outlets who had requested public records related to the firing of former University of Wyoming president Laurie Nichols.

Judge Tori Kricken granted the media’s request for documents related to Nichols’ dismissal.

In her ruling, Kricken cited exceptions to the public records request for public employees, who by virtue of their position are subject to increased scrutiny and notoriety, particularly for those who voluntarily accept positions of public prominence in which that person has willfully relinquished their right to certain privacies. 

District Response

Although the response to the public records request alluded to an investigation currently underway by the Laramie School District No. 1, it did not not explicitly identify Apodaca as the subject.

The district, likewise, refused to comment.

“This is a confidential personnel matter, and the District does not comment on confidential personnel issues,” Vicki Thompson, assistant superintendent of human resources, said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily, through Creighton Grove, marketing specialist for the district.

Several of the parents interviewed, however, said the players were called to speak to human resource personnel who came to the high school to inquire about their responses to their surveys. 

Apodaca, who was hired in 2018 after a 15-year career coaching in Colorado, is a Cheyenne Central alumnus. He did not return Cowboy State Daily’s email request for comment prior to publication. 

The Cheyenne Central Indians ended their 2021 season with a 2-8 record.

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Explainer: Who Are The Candidates Nominated For Wyoming Superintendent?

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will have a new superintendent of public instruction by early next week, if not perhaps sooner.

Three candidates were selected Saturday by the central committee of the Wyoming Republican Party to interview with Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday. Gordon will then have five days to determine who is the best person to lead Wyoming’s K-12 public education system for the next year.

The central committee nominated Thomas Kelly, Brian Schroeder and Marti Halverson to finish out former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow’s term, which ends in January 2023.

Here is a closer look at the candidates:

Halverson is a former legislator who served five years in the Wyoming House of Representatives. She and her husband moved to Wyoming in 1996 after they retired from working in the medical device industry.

She has also served as Wyoming’s Republican national committeewoman and has been active in politics for decades.

In her cover letter, Halverson told the central committee that mask and vaccine mandates, school closings, obscene literature and “racist agendas” were the biggest assaults on Wyoming’s classrooms right now.

“A superior K-12 education does not require the latest in brick and mortar, or advanced teaching degrees or even state certifications,” Halverson wrote in her letter. “Rather, a first-class education requires the dedication and investment of teachers and mentors, whether they be paid educators, or local retired chemists, mathematicians and business professionals or…the parents.”

Schroeder is a longtime educator who has worked in California, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming. He has also worked as a family and youth counselor for nearly 20 years and spent nearly a decade in pastoral ministry.

He currently leads Veritas Academy, a classical Christian school in Cody, which has been open for nearly seven years.

“The local American schoolhouse is uniquely poised to be both an extension of and support for the American home as well as an incubator for and bridge to American society,” Schroeder wrote in his cover letter. “There is, therefore, no work on earth more important than what we do as teachers (outside of parenting, of course), which makes the top teacher job in the state all the more critical by way of providing the necessary leadership and direction to our schools.”

Kelly is a former public school teacher who serves as chair of the political and military science department at the American Military University.

He has lived in Sheridan since 2019, and his five youngest children attend Sheridan schools. He said he was considering a run for school board until Balow’s position opened up. He served on the Sheridan County Planning Commission for two years.

“Wyoming is at a crossroads in terms of maintaining both an excellent public educational system and remaining fiscally responsible with taxpayer money,” he wrote in his cover letter. “Wyoming needs to focus on hiring effective and innovative educators rather than further bloating district bureaucracies and chasing the latest expensive technology for the classroom.”

Balow abruptly resigned almost two weeks ago after accepting a similar appointed position in Virginia. Wyoming Department of Education chief policy officer Kari Eakins is currently serving as interim superintendent.

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Former Legislator Goodenough Seeks Superintendent Job

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A former state legislator who joined Wyoming’s Republican Party several years ago has signed up to seek the state’s open superintendent of public instruction job.

Keith Goodenough, a former Democrat who served in Wyoming’s House from 1989 to 1992 and in the Senate from 1995 to 2004, said he is trying to make a point with his application for the job left open with the resignation of Jillian Balow.

“My main interest is in making the point of what a true conservative is,” he said. “Because most of the people involved with the leadership of the GOP are not actually conservatives, as that term has been politically defined for 100 years.”

The central committee of the Wyoming Republican Party is to meet Saturday to select three finalists to interview for the job left vacant when Balow resigned to take a similar position in Virginia.

Goodenough and 11 others filed applications for the job prior to Saturday’s meeting. Other nominees may submit their names for consideration during the meeting.

Gov. Mark Gordon will select one of the finalists to take over the superintendent’s job.

Goodenough said he wants a chance to tell the central committee that being a conservative means supporting the Constitution and not supporting expressions of violence against political opponents.

“If you think about the bedrock of what conservatives are, they are historically supportive of the Constitution, they do not support violence in government, they do not support attacking the Capitol and they do not support bullying appointed and elected officials,” he said. “They have veered off-course on that.”

Goodenough said the main plank in his campaign for the position is to give all control over schools to local school districts.

“While obeying court decisions, of course, and obeying state law,” he said. “But there are things that can be done to chip away at the centralized system.” 

Goodenough was a Democrat while serving in the Legislature, but he noted several other legislators have changed affiliation over the years, such as former Senate President Eli Bebout.

Bebout started his years in the Legislature as a Democrat and changed parties.

Goodenough described himself as a “Cheney Republican.”

“That’s a member of the GOP who is willing to tell the truth about Donald Trump and the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021,” he said.

Goodenough said he is not sure how his message will be received by the central committee.

“They are not as friendly as they used to be,” he said. “But I figure I’ll make my point and be done with it. It needs to be said.”

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12 Candidates Apply For Superintendent Of Schools; Wyoming GOP To Narrow To 3

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

At least a dozen candidates, including several former legislators, are seeking to replace former Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who abruptly resigned from her elected position last week.

The Wyoming Republican Party on Saturday will narrow that field down to just three candidates, who will then be interviewed by Gov. Mark Gordon, who will choose Balow’s replacement.

Candidates who filed expressions of interest prior to Saturday’s meeting were: Michelle Aldrich, Megan Degenfelder, Reagan Kaufman, Angela Raber, Thomas Kelly, Jayme Lien, David Northrup, Joseph Heywood, Joshua Valk, Marti Halverson, Brian Schroeder, Sr. and  Keith Goodenough. However, candidates who did not file in advance of the meeting could put their names into consideration during Saturday’s meeting.

The three selected finalists will be interviewed by Gordon on Tuesday. Gordon will then have five days to appoint a new superintendent. That person will serve for the remainder of Balow’s term, which will end in January 2023. Balow was first elected to the position in 2014 and then re-elected in 2018.

The candidates come from a variety of backgrounds, such as education, politics and the oil and gas industry.

Northrup is a former legislator who has served on the board of trustees for Park County School District 1.

“As I have led education policy work at the local and state levels, I am well-positioned to put policy into practice,” he wrote in his cover letter.

Halverson is also a former legislator and businesswoman.

Goodenough, is a former legislator, Casper city councilman and a former member of the Democratic party who became a Republican several years ago.

Aldrich is a current Cheyenne city councilwoman who has been an educator in Wyoming for 30 years. She serves as the state director of career and technical education at the Wyoming Department of Education, a position she was appointed to in 2019.

“I have the ability to lead the Wyoming Department of Education during this challenging time while maintaining momentum,” Aldrich wrote in her cover letter.

Heywood is the executive director of the Wyoming Virtual Academy.

Degenfelder is a former WDE chief policy officer (currently the position held by Kari Eakins, interim superintendent), but currently works as a government and regulatory affairs manager with an oil and gas company.

“As our resources and their development continue to be threatened by outside forces, it is more important than ever to have leadership that protects our way of life and the resources we produce that benefit the rest of the word,” she wrote in her cover letter.

Schroeder is a longtime educator who has worked in California, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming.

Kelly is a former public school teacher who served as chair of the political and military science department at the American Military University.

“Wyoming is at a crossroads in terms of maintaining both an excellent public educational system and remaining fiscally responsible with taxpayer money,” he wrote in his cover letter. “Wyoming needs to focus on hiring effective and innovative educators rather than further bloating district bureaucracies and chasing the latest expensive technology for the classroom.”

Kaufman teaches at Cheyenne’s South High School and was the 2018 teacher of the year for the Laramie County School District No. 1. If appointed to the position, she intends to call for a “significant” revision of the Wyoming social studies standards.

Valk is an administrator at the University of Wyoming in Casper.

Raber is an instructor at Sheridan Community College.

Balow announced last week that she would be leaving Wyoming to take a similar position with the state of Virginia, having accepted an offer from Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

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Wyoming’s Graduation Rate Slightly Increased In 2021

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a slight uptick in its high school graduation rate for 2021, marking the eighth consecutive year of graduation rate increases.

The state’s graduation rate increased to 82.4% in the 2020-2021 school year, a 0.1% increase over the prior school year, when it was 82.3%. The number reflects the fact that 5,913 students graduated high school during the year, while 1,261 students left school without graduating.

“I think we all know that the pandemic thrust some unique challenges on students in schools the last two years,” Kari Eakins, interim director for the Wyoming Department of Education, said during a news conference Wednesday. “This continued improvement shows just how highly we value education in this state. High school graduation is one of the most important achievements in a student’s life.”

Wyoming’s graduation rate remains below the national the national average of 86%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The national average number is for the 2018-2019 school year, as it takes longer for national data to be compiled, Eakins noted.

The lowest graduation rates in the state were found among homeless students at 61.3%, students learning the English language, 61.3%, and American Indian students, 52.9%.

Eakins blamed the pandemic for being at least partially responsible for Wyoming schools failing to address dropout rates among these groups.

“We know that a lot of students had homes that didn’t have solid broadband connections or the atmosphere that they needed to conduct their schoolwork in a good manner,” she said. “Obviously if you’re a homeless student, I would imagine that struggle is even greater. For English language learners and a lot of other students that needed special services, it was more difficult to deliver those during the pandemic.”

The graduation rates for homeless and Native American students actually dropped over the last year.

However, 17 Wyoming school districts posted graduation rates of 90% or above. Sheridan County School District No. 3 in Clearmont and Washakie County School District No. 2 in Ten Sleep both had 100% graduation rates last year.

Eakins pointed to Converse County School District 2 in Glenrock as a prime example of one district that has significantly increased its graduation rate in recent years. The district had a graduation rate of 94% for the most recent school year, an increase of 12% in just a few years.

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Rise In Internet Crimes Against Children In Wyoming Prompts Educational Effort

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Internet crimes against children are on the rise in Wyoming and are focusing on increasingly younger victims, according to authorities.

The increase marks an alarming trend toward the normalization of sexually exploitative behaviors among teens and children that make them more vulnerable to predators, experts said.

Chris McDonald, special agent and head of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit for Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, said that the state had another banner year with regard to the numerous cyber tips that he and his team received about potential exploitation of children online.

In 2021, ITAC received more than 600 tips, leading to 33 arrests, compared to 262 tips in 2019 and 531 in 2020. The tips come from social media and internet providers as well as the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other reporting agencies. 

Of the 33 arrests in 2021, many were for producing or sharing child pornography involving 23 live victims who were rescued through law enforcement efforts. Police have also made arrests in cases of adults traveling to have sex with children, as well as cases involving “sextortion” and blackmail.

Staying ahead of the predators

As a father himself and someone who typically would avoid social media, McDonald said that adult oversight is key to keeping children safe. He and his team are seeing an increase in predatory activity on platforms such as KIK, Snapchat and TikTok, as well as in online and multi-player games.

“Everything is happening at the speed of the internet,” he said. “Predators are able to hide themselves. It’s like an arms race any time there is new platform or app.”

While officers can’t control the predators, they can do everything in their power to educate teens about the potential threats and the ramifications of their internet activity and behavior.

Terri Markham sees risky online behavior every day in her role as co-founder and executive director of Uprising Wyoming, a Sheridan-based nonprofit focused on education and raising awareness about human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. 

In the roughly three years since she founded the nonprofit, Markham has traversed the state working with law enforcement, first responders and other professionals in the field to raise awareness about the issue and working with teens to teach them to recognize and protect themselves against online predation.

What she’s found in working with teens in the middle and high school levels has alarmed her, both in the number of times teens have been approached by potential predators online as well as their blasé attitude toward sharing nude photos of themselves or their peers.

Markham shared the results of anonymous surveys from workshops with youths age 12 and up from around the state in which 45% reported being approached by a stranger online in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

In that same group, 15% said they had social media accounts that their parents didn’t know about while 13% said they had sent or received nude photos or videos online.

An additional 8% reported drug or alcohol abuse in their home, which is another vulnerability, Markham noted. 

Even more shocking to her was the three disclosures from a group of 12- to 13-years-olds she spoke with recently who reported active cases of sextortion in which someone was threatening to release a nude photo or video of them against their wishes. 

Markham said her group learned that children in that age group needed to be equipped with youth critical thinking skills to help them identify when they are in a potentially exploitative situation.  

“What we discovered is that we were really a little too late in talking about this topic with this age group,” she said. “It often leads to just giving them the language to describe experiences that had already happened or were happening to them.”

Worse yet, Markham said, is that it’s becoming very commonplace to see younger children, as young as 9 or 10, also sharing nude photos across a variety of social media platforms and apps.

As a result of what Markham and her team were finding, they’ve decided to continue focusing these workshops with youth across the state in order to help mitigate these dangerous behaviors that make them particularly vulnerable to predators. 

“It’s becoming so normalized that it’s getting easier for predators to exploit these children,” she said. “They are growing up with this and thinking it’s normal.”

Along with offering training for children, educators, law enforcement and other professionals, Uprising also conducts training sessions for parents and care givers to make them aware of the problem while giving them tools to help keep their children safe. 

“We’re all about risk reduction,” she said. “Both immediate and long term. We want to let kids know that these images can come back to haunt them and how important it is to report it instead of just re-sharing or not staying anything. That’s where it starts. Risky behavior leads to other risky behavior when a stranger comes around.”

Like Markham, McDonald focuses a lot of his time doing in-class presentations throughout the state.

“We can’t get rid of it all,” he said, “so we have to figure out how to help the kiddos protect themselves online.”

For more information about this issue and opportunities for education and training, contact Markham at Uprising Wyoming. Additional resources include Thorn.org and Center for Missing and Exploited Children

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No Violence Seen At Wyoming Schools After Threats Circulate Online

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

All was quiet on Friday across Wyoming’s school districts after many increased security measures due to threats of violence that circulated nationally across the social media app TikTok.

A message spread across TikTok throughout the week claiming numerous school shootings would occur on Friday prompted school officials across the state to take extra precautions, such as bringing in police officers to patrol areas around schools.

Multiple school districts in Wyoming — Laramie County School District No. 1 in Cheyenne, Natrona County School District No. 1 in Casper, Uinta County School District No. 4 in Mountain View Park County School District No. 1 in Powell and Park County School District No. 6 in Cody — responded to the threat by adding security measures on Friday.

LCSD1 spokeswoman Mary Quast told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that it was a “pretty routine” school day, despite the concern.

“We did see a decrease in attendance today, which is likely due to it being the Friday prior to a long break and other variables like family travel and nice weather,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “Also, some of this decrease could have been the result of the threat that was posed through social media.”

Casper Police School Resource Sgt. Scott Jones made it clear Thursday that anyone taking part in making threats toward a school could face criminal charges.

“We would like to remind all individuals, regardless of age, that a violent threat toward a school is illegal,” said Casper Police Department School Resource Sergeant Scott Jones. “The Casper Police Department will vigorously investigate any claim of violence and hold the person responsible for the threat accountable. In Wyoming, that means a felony arrest for making a terroristic threat. We find this and similar trends highly disturbing and encourage all parents and guardians to have a conversation with their children about the real life consequences as result of these trends.”

According to CNN, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Friday morning it had no evidence to suggest the claims are credible but encouraged the public to “remain alert.”

On Friday afternoon, TikTok said it had begun removing the threats from its platform as misinformation.

“We’ve exhaustively searched for content that promotes violence at schools today, but have still found nothing. What we find are videos discussing this rumor and warning others to stay safe,” the company said in a tweet. “Local authorities, the FBI, and DHS have confirmed there’s no credible threat, so we’re working to remove alarmist warnings that violate our misinformation policy. If we did find promotion of violence on our platform, we’d remove and report it to law enforcement.”

Wyoming was not the only state taking the threats seriously. School districts across the nation, from Utah to Texas, had taken some sort of measures to prevent any violence occurring on Friday, ranging from added security to even school closures, CNN reported.

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Wyoming Schools Add Extra Security Due To Threats Of Violence On TikTok

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Multiple school districts across Wyoming have put extra security measures in place for Friday in response to a threat of violence that has been circulating nationally on the popular social media app TikTok.

A message spread across TikTok throughout the week claiming numerous school shootings will occur on Friday, prompting school officials across the state to take extra precautions.

At least four school districts in Wyoming — Laramie County School District No. 1 in Cheyenne, Natrona County School District No. 1 in Casper, Uinta County School District No. 4 in Mountain View and Park County School District No. 1 in Powell — have responded to the threat while telling parents and community members that no school officials have received reports of any credible threats.

“This situation serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats,” PCSD1 officials said Thursday. “Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff. We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online.”

Officials in the other districts shared similar messages with constituents, letting parents know an increased police presence will be seen in schools on Friday.

Casper Police School Resource Sgt. Scott Jones made it clear that anyone taking part in making threats toward a school could face criminal charges.

“We would like to remind all individuals, regardless of age, that a violent threat toward a school is illegal,” said Casper Police Department School Resource Sergeant Scott Jones. “The Casper Police Department will vigorously investigate any claim of violence and hold the person responsible for the threat accountable. In Wyoming, that means a felony arrest for making a terroristic threat. We find this and similar trends highly disturbing and encourage all parents and guardians to have a conversation with their children about the real life consequences as result of these trends.”

Wyoming’s schools were not the only ones planning for extra precautions on Friday, as schools districts across the nation are taking the potential threat of violence seriously and addressing parents’ concerns, according to other news reports.

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Wyoming Public Schools Saw Increase Of 54 Students This Fall

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s public education system saw an overall enrollment increase of 54 students this fall, according to data released by the Wyoming Department of Education.

As of fall 2021, the state had 91,992 students enrolled across its 48 school districts, a slight increase from the 91,938 enrolled in public schools last fall.

WDE numbers do not include students who are home-schooled or are enrolled in private school.

The data showed a significant decline in enrollment for virtual classes at the state’s two largest school districts — Laramie County School District No. 1 in Cheyenne and Natrona County School District No. 1 in Casper — which indicates students returned to their local school districts this fall to resume in-person instruction.

There also was a 5% to 10% drop in enrollment at three of the school districts on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Cheyenne schools saw an increase in enrollment of nearly 200 students, keeping Laramie County School District No. 1 the largest in the state with a little more than 14,000 students.

The smallest school district in Wyoming was Park County School District No. 16 in Meeteetse, with 89 students, an increase of three from last fall.

The highest number of students enrolled in the last decade was in fall 2015, when more than 94,000 students enrolled in public schools.

Wyoming has not had more than 100,000 students enrolled in its public schools since the 1990s, according the WDE historical data.

The lowest number of enrolled students in the last 20 years was in fall 2005, 83,705 students were enrolled in the state’s public schools.

The Wyoming Department of Education did not immediately return a request for comment on the numbers.

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Wyoming Teacher Of The Year Warns Casper School District Of Burnout

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s 2021 “teacher of the year” warned Casper school district officials this week that teachers faced with the continuing burden of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic are burning out.

Alexis Barney, an Evansville Elementary School teacher, told Natrona County School Board trustees that the COVID pandemic has had lasting effects on her and her fellow educators.

“This year alone, I have seen more students receiving emotional support than I have ever seen in my teaching career,” Barney said.

But if the students are struggling, Barney questioned what this meant for the educators charged with leading them.

She said that teachers have been struggling with learning new systems while at the same time being asked to help students meet high academic expectations. This is not only a problem in Natrona County, but across the entire state of Wyoming, Barney noted.

“Even superheroes need help,” she said.

She told school officials that systemic changes were needed in order to recruit and retain staff, both within Natrona County and statewide.

“We need focused efforts in maintaining our educators, because many are sadly thinking of leaving the profession entirely,” Barney said. “Please recognize that these heroes in our classrooms are human, too.

Cowboy State Daily previously reported that school officials in Cody and Powell are seeing similar issues with teachers struggling to cope with pandemic-related challenges.

Substitutes have been in short order across the state as wel. Ten Sleep’s school recently had to go to remote learning due to a lack of teachers who were well enough to educate in person.

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Cheyenne School District Experiencing Milk Shortage

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There have been shortages of chicken wings, fireworks and ammunition experienced all over the nation, but Wyoming’s largest school district is facing a shortage of another kind: milk.

Laramie County School District No. 1 announced Tuesday that it was struggling to receive enough milk for students at breakfast and lunch.

“This year, due to the effects of the pandemic, we are experiencing unprecedented supply-chain challenges,” said Carla Bankes, LCSD1’s Nutrition Services program administrator. 

Students are being encouraged to bring refillable water bottles to school.

Bankes explained that her department has been able to ward off other pandemic-related food shortages by  purchasing larger quantities and using direct shipments. 

However, since milk is a perishable item and the shortage is widespread, she said the district does not have a ready solution.  

“We continue to problem solve,” she said. “Whatever is served must align with the National Food  Program. We have evaluated other options including bottled water, but there is also bottling shortage.”  

Additionally, the shortages are intermittent, allowing some schools to have milk or other items when other schools do not. 

“We ask parents and staff to be patient as we work through this nationwide shortage,” Bankes said. “With a little grace, we will navigate these issues just as we have done throughout the pandemic.” 

According to Colorado TV station KRDO, Colorado schools have also been affected by the milk shortage.

The station reported that similar to other industries across the West and the nation, there are dozens of unfilled jobs in the dairy industry, including drivers transporting milk to businesses.

According to Bloomberg, the supply of basic goods at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants is once again falling victim to intermittent shortages and delays.

Bloomberg additionally reported that in Denver, broken parts at a local milk supplier’s plant affected shipments of half-pint cartons while also disrupting the supply and distribution of cereal, tortillas and juice.

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Two Wyoming Schools Named As National Blue Ribbon Winners

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming schools are included in the latest list of the U.S. Department of Education‘s National Blue Ribbon Schools.

Tongue River Elementary School in Ranchester and Powell Middle School were the only two schools in Wyoming selected for the list based on their academic performance or ability to close achievement gaps in groups of students.

Only 325 schools in the nation were chosen as “Blue Ribbon” winners.

Both schools were nominated due to their exemplary high performance.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis celebrated the honor on social media on Wednesday.

“I am excited to meet staff from both schools in November when they travel to Washington, D.C., for a national awards ceremony celebrating their accomplishments!” she wrote.

In the nomination form for Tongue River, principal Anna Griffin wrote that everyone at the school considers themselves a part of one big family.

“Every child deserves the very best education and support,” she wrote. “We pride ourselves in the culture that has been created by students, staff and our community partnerships. Both in and out of our building, we have built a community of kindness and acceptance and work tirelessly to educate the whole child.”

Powell Middle School principal Kyle Rohrer praised the community’s hard work ethic, which he credits to the agricultural and ranching backgrounds of many of the students.

“The community is instilled with strong values, morals and ethics and is supportive of education,” he wrote.

According to the USDE, the Blue Ribbon program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools. The program has been running since 1982.

Every year, the department seeks out and celebrates great American schools that demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels. Since its inception, the program has bestowed more than 10,000 awards to over 9,000 schools, with some schools winning multiple awards.

The award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content. The National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing an entry or flying overhead is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.

Just over 300 public schools were chosen as Blue Ribbon winners this year, while 23 non-public schools won.

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Laramie Teen Appears On Fox To Discuss Arrest, Mask Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Laramie girl who was arrested last week because she failed to wear a mask in school appeared on Fox and Friends with her father to discuss the arrest which has now received global attention.

Grace Smith, who was joined on the interview with her father Andy, told the FOX News host she would defy the mask mandate again if she went to school but that isn’t likely because it was no longer a safe environment.

“There have been threats to my family and there was a threat of a school shooting last week,” she said. “So I won’t be returning any time super soon.”

Grace was arrested on Thursday at Laramie High School because she refused to leave after being suspended for not following the mandatory mask policy. The officer told her she was trespassing.

“I believe that every right that you feel is being infringed upon is worth fighting for,” Grace said. “My dad and I have closed off every meeting with a quote of Benjamin Franklin’s, ‘Those who sacrifice a little bit of liberty for a little bit of safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'”

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show.

“I’m just so stinking proud of this girl for standing up for herself,” Andy Smith said. “It’s not just her, she’s doing it for the civil liberties of every individual.”

The school district implemented a mask mandate in early September after Albany County and Wyoming’s COVID cases continue to climb, as well as its hospitalizations. Its mask mandate is slated to expire on Thursday, unless school officials decide to extend it.

Andy Smith told Cowboy State Politics that initially when the mandate was implemented in September, the school district was going to allow exemption forms, but Superintendent Jubal Yennie ultimately revoked them and only allowed exemptions under eight criteria, none of which Grace met.

“Wyoming’s Grace standing strong for all eyes of this country to see,” Carbon County Republican Party chairman Joey Correnti IV wrote on social media following the Smiths’ appearance on Fox. “Well done young lady, your strength and courage is an inspiration to so many across this state and nation!”

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Wyoming Receives More Than $300M Total In Federal Funding For School Districts

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming will receive more than $100 million in federal funding for its K-12 schools, totaling more than $300 million in funds received this year from the federal government.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education approved the state’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief plan, meaning it would release the final $101 million in funding for the state from this program.

WDE chief academic officer Shelley Hamel told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that 90% of the funds from the ARP ESSER plan go to the school districts, and it is up to their discretion on how to spend the money. In total, the WDE will allocate more than $273 million to the state school districts.

“The uses for the money are really all about keeping education moving for students and addressing any gaps that might have been created because of the [COVID] interruption,” Hamel said. “For example, one plan was about shifting to online learning, because that’s where we all were as a country.”

The final 10% of the funds from the federal government will go into a reserve, Hamel said.

Hamel explained that despite the funds being allocated for the school districts, all of the districts will have to submit information about how they plan to spend the money to ensure they are following federal guidelines.

Wyoming’s plan detailed how the state is using and plans to use ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the USDE distributed two-thirds of ARP ESSER funds, a total of $81 billion, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining third of the funds was made available Friday once state plans were approved.

“Wyoming is anxious to fund and implement transformational educational initiatives that narrow learning gaps and extend learning opportunities,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “My office and I look forward to supporting communities in their endeavors.”

The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the the USDE on Friday, including Wyoming, showed how states are using federal pandemic resources to support safe, in-person instruction and meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students, with a focus on the students most impacted by the pandemic. For example:

  • Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: The WDE developed a Smart Start Guidance document for the reopening of schools. The Smart Start Taskforce facilitated a series of meetings during May and June 2020 to consider research and utilize CDC Guidance and state and local health requirements to develop a practical guidance tool to assist school districts in reopening in the fall of 2020 and 2021. Schools are continuing to operate using the structures developed in the Smart Start Guidance, including CDC guidance, and state and local health requirements.
  • Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: The WDE will award some ARP ESSER funds through competitive district grants titled “Addressing Gaps and Accelerated Learning.” Districts will select evidence-based interventions consistent with student needs and specific focus areas, including kindergarten readiness, computer science, postsecondary partnerships, postsecondary transition programming, and content specific professional development. Additionally, interventions will include tribal or Wind River Reservation district partnerships. Grant applications will open immediately with anticipated award notification no later than Dec. 15.
  • Staffing to Support Students’ Needs: With ARP ESSER funds, the WDE has funded a state school nurse position to provide assistance to districts on implementation of state and local health orders. Additionally, the WDE will use ARP ESSER funds to add necessary staff in districts including highly-qualified interventionists and tutors, counselors, school psychologists and paraprofessionals.

“I am excited to announce approval of Wyoming’s plan,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities, particularly as we enter the upcoming academic year.

The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The state plans that have been submitted to the Department lay the groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better.”

The distribution of ARP ESSER funds is part of the USDE’s effort to support students and districts as they work to re-engage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and build the nation’s education system back better than before.

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Report: Sheridan High Named Best In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sheridan High School was ranked as the best in Wyoming, according to a recent survey done by the U.S. News and World Report.

The publication does an annual ranking looking at data from 24,000 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Nearly 18,000 schools were ranked on six factors (including college readiness, math and reading proficiency and performance, the graduation rate and underserved student performance), based on their performance on state assessments and how well they prepare students for college.

Sheridan came in number one in the state, but 1,061 in the national rankings. The best high school in the nation is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.

Sheridan High students have the opportunity to take advanced placement courses and exams, and the AP participation rate at the school is 45%. The school’s graduation rate is around 87%, which is the state’s median, too.

The total minority enrollment at the high school is 10% and 26% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

According to the Sheridan Press, the high school has been ranked as one of the state’s best high schools in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020.

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Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Encourages Parents To Reject Critical Race Theory

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The chairman of Wyoming’s Republican Party is urging parents and others to contact their local school boards and elected officials to protest the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

In the party’s “Chairman’s Update” released Wednesday, Frank Eathorne discussed critical race theory, calling it a dangerous agenda being pushed in schools.

“The youngest members of our society deserve attention, consideration, and protection when it comes to public policy. They should not be political pawns,” Eathorne said. “You’ve probably heard the term Critical Race Theory in the news. You may, or may not, understand the nuances and dangers lurking in this new agenda being pushed on our children and grandchildren.”

He also linked to an opinion piece penned in the free monthly speech digest “Imprimis” from the conservative private school Hillsdale College about CRT from public policy researcher Christopher F. Rufo, which said the theory was closely related to Marxism and describing how it could be battled.

“Consider the future of your family and community. Is CRT good for the future of Wyoming and America? The time to act is now!” Eathorne said. “Let your local school boards and other elected officials know this is not the path we wish to take in the educating of our youngest minds.”

“Our children are treasures! Don’t let them be taught to view the world through the lens of skin color,” Eathorne concluded. “Call or write your elected officials and tell them this is a NO GO!”

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Last week, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was joined by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow at a press conference in the Wyoming State Capitol to announce his proposed Civics Transparency Act, which he plans to introduce during the next legislative session in the spring.

The bill is currently in draft form with the Legislative Service Office.

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for teaching about the state and federal constitutions.

The Wyoming Education Association expressed concern this week about the bill’s potential consequences.

“The Wyoming Education Association supports transparency in education, which is at the core of this proposed legislation,” President Grady Hutcherson said in a written statement to the Gillette News Record. “WEA welcomes parents and communities in their right to be collaborative partners in students’ education.

“However, we do have concerns about the potential unintended consequences this draft legislation could have for education employees, districts, and — most importantly — students,” he said.

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Wyoming Education Association Concerned About Critical Race Theory Bill’s Consequences

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Education Association expressed concern this week about the potential consequences of a recently proposed bill regarding critical race theory.

“The Wyoming Education Association supports transparency in education, which is at the core of this proposed legislation,” President Grady Hutcherson said in a written statement to the Gillette News Record. “WEA welcomes parents and communities in their right to be collaborative partners in students’ education.

“However, we do have concerns about the potential unintended consequences this draft legislation could have for education employees, districts, and — most importantly — students,” he said.

WEA spokeswoman Amanda Turner did not return Cowboy State Daily’s requests for comment on Tuesday.

Last week, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was joined by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow at a press conference in the Wyoming State Capitol to announce his proposed Civics Transparency Act, which he plans to introduce during the next legislative session in the spring.

The bill is currently in draft form with the Legislative Service Office.

“This draft legislation is the perfect example of a problem we see time and again here in Wyoming,” Hutcherson said. “The legislation reflects a lack of understanding about what’s practical in Wyoming classrooms.

“Being overly prescriptive by attempting to legislate strict adherence to cataloging all materials used to support lessons is unrealistic and burdensome red tape and takes away quality teaching time with students,” Hutcherson continued. “That expectation would strip education professionals of the creativity and adaptation necessary to teach.”

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for teaching about the state and federal constitutions.

“Anything that’s going on in a classroom will be posted on a website so that you, as the public and as the parents, have the ability to see what’s being taught to your kids and what the curriculum is,” Driskill said. “So if they’re bringing in guest speakers, someone from out of the state or country that doesn’t fit, there is a chance for everyone to see.”

Driskill added that the bill highlighted portions of the Wyoming Constitution that focuses on equality for all, no matter a person’s race.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Driskill said his bill gives “parents the tools to know what is being taught in their children’s classrooms and prevents the indoctrination found in the critical race theory curriculum that has been pushed by the far-left and has found its way into some classrooms.”

Driskill, Dockstader and Balow repeatedly said the bill is not intended to block the teaching of critical race theory, but to allow for transparency on what is being taught.

Balow, who has been a noted opponent of critical race theory, said that the theory itself likely wasn’t being taught in Wyoming’s K-12 schools at this point, but certain elements of the curriculum were.

“There are classrooms in the state that have discussed CRT-related topics such as white oppressions, systemic racism and white privilege,” she said. “I’ve even seen class notes that not only reference Marxist revolution…that lead students to make conclusions that support Marxism in the absence of any comparison to other theories or concepts.”

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Laramie County School District Says No To Mask Mandate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After a contentious board of trustees meeting on Monday night, Cheyenne school officials have decided to strongly recommend, but not require, the use of facemasks once the school year begins next week.

The official decision was made late Thursday, with Margaret Crespo, superintendent of Laramie County School District No. 1, sending out a letter to parents about the recommendation.

Students are recommended to wear masks when they can’t be distanced a certain amount (6 feet during athletics and activities, 4 feet when seated in the lunchroom and 3 feet when in the classroom). They will be required to wear masks while on school buses, which is a federal mandate.

“Bullying based on mask choice will not be tolerated and will be handled according to our discipline matrix,” the letter said.

Parents were told to monitor their children for COVID-19 symptoms and keep them home if they are sick.

Discussions about a mask requirement grew heated during the board of trustees meeting Monday, with some people even calling school officials “criminals” and “child abusers.” Some people were even harassed by fellow audience members for supporting a mask requirement.

No other school districts in Wyoming have adopted a mask mandate. However, the University of Wyoming is requiring students, staff and faculty to wear masks until at least Sept. 20.

The announcement by Cheyenne schools comes just days after Gov. Mark Gordon reaffirmed to reporters that he wouldn’t be implementing another mask mandate like he did, albeit reluctantly, last December.

“I think it’s advisable to wear masks, but there are those who feel very strongly that masks are not the appropriate measure to take,” he said. 

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Wyoming Health Dept: Starting Friday, Masks Will Be Optional in Casper Schools

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In the waning days of the school year, Casper schools have been granted a variance from the state’s public school mask mandate by the Wyoming Department of Health.

Officials with Natrona County School District No. 1 requested the variance on Monday and it was approved Thursday. As of Friday, masks will be optional for all students, staff and school visitors while on district premises.

Face coverings must still be worn on all district transportation service vehicles, which is a federal order for all schools.

All of the schools will continue to have a masking requirement in and around a designated nursing station.

“Bullying, intimidation, shaming, or harassment of any kind by any individual regarding a person’s choice to wear or not wear a face covering will NOT be tolerated,” the district said in an announcement Thursday.

Students and staff will also be required to wear a mask or face covering while visiting another school or event outside of the district if they are asked to do so.

This is the largest school district in the state to receive a mask variance, following in the footsteps of other Wyoming school districts such as Sweetwater, Goshen and Park counties. Most have reported success from this move, but around 100 people recently had to be quarantined in Sheridan County following the removal of their mask policy.

Natrona County had 25 active coronavirus cases as of Thursday.

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Report: Wyoming’s Teachers Least Underpaid In Nation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

While teachers across the country might be underpaid when compared to other professions, a report from the Economic Policy Institute showed that Wyoming’s teachers are the least underpaid.

A statistic from the EPI’s September 2020 report that shows public school teachers make about 20% less than college graduates who are not teachers has been making the rounds on social media lately.

However, the report also showed that Wyoming’s teachers are paid better than most, with their salaries falling below those of non-teachers by about 2%, a fact that was noted by many social media users.

The Wyoming Department of Education was grateful that people took notice of the better pay for teachers in the state.

“It is wonderful to see Wyoming recognized for placing an emphasis on funding teachers,” Wyoming Department of Education spokeswoman Linda Finnerty told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “As we continue to explore the future of education funding in Wyoming, Superintendent Balow will continue to advocate for prioritizing our dollars on teachers and their classrooms.”

Some states, such as Arizona and Virginia, pay their teachers more than 30% less than what other college graduates are earning.

Rhode Island and New Jersey followed behind in Wyoming in paying their teachers the best.

Funding for the state’s teachers and schools became an issue this year, however, with news that Wyoming’s K-12 Education School Foundation Program is facing a $250 million annual structural deficit and the School Capital Construction Account (SCCA) faces a $50 million annual shortfall.

Most of the money for Wyoming’s schools comes from property taxes and a disproportionate amount of those taxes have been paid in the past by the state’s mineral industry. Legislators this year tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between income and expenses in the state’s schools but were unable to do so, leaving the shortfall to be covered by a $331 million transfer from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.”

State Reps. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, in an opinion piece published by Cowboy State Daily, noted the state must come up with solution to the shortfalls in education funding.

“Wyoming should continue to look for efficiencies in funding K-12 education,” the representatives said. “It is imperative that Wyoming continue to examine its K-12 educational program to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.”

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Wyoming GOP Praises Balow For Saying No To Critical Race Theory

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Republican Party is praising Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow’s for her position against teaching critical race theory in schools.

The organization thanked Balow late Wednesday for her pushback against a federal proposal to teach certain controversial topics in history and civics classes, applauding her for listening to the people of Wyoming and “standing in the gap for Republican values.”

“In this decision, Balow represents the will of the majority of Wyomingites and Americans. We love our country and our heritage,” the party said in a statement. “Programs like the 1619 Project and CRT seek to destroy America’s moral fiber and promote falsehoods about the founding of our nation.”

The U.S. Department of Education recently proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Balow called this an “alarming move” on Tuesday and said it should be rebuked across party lines.

“The draft rule is an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history. History and civics should not be secondary to political whim,” she said. “Instead, history and civics instruction should engage students in objective, non-partisan analyses of historical and current events.

The Republican Party encouraged superintendents in other states to follow in Balow’s example.

While Balow agreed that America needed to update and renew its expectations for teaching and learning about history and civics, she countered that every school board, state legislature and state superintendent should work to build a local consensus about what should be taught and what materials should be used in classrooms.

“Every family should be engaged in activities that ensure the rising generation is properly prepared to be informed citizens,” Baow said. “Every student deserves a rich and engaging education about America’s triumphs, treacheries, losses, and victories. Our touchstone is our shared principle that all Americans have infinite value and individual freedom and responsibility. We must strive to find common goals and values as a nation, not tear each other and our country apart.”

Last week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill that outlawed state teachers from instructing students on critical race theory and other “social justice” issues.

The proposed federal rule on these new educational priorities is open for public comment until May 19.

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Balow Says No To Teaching Critical Race Theory in Wyoming Classrooms

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is pushing back against proposed federal priorities for schools to teach the theory that racism is an ingrained part of American life.

The U.S. Department of Education recently proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Critical race theory is described as some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Balow called this an “alarming move” on Tuesday and said it should be rebuked across party lines.

“The draft rule is an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history. History and civics should not be secondary to political whim,” she said. “Instead, history and civics instruction should engage students in objective, non-partisan analyses of historical and current events.

“For good reason, public schools do not promote particular political ideologies or religions over others,” she continued. “This federal rule attempts to break from that practice and use taxpayer dollars to do just that.”

While Balow agreed that America needed to update and renew its expectations for teaching and learning about history and civics, she countered that every school board, state legislature and state superintendent should work to build a local consensus about what should be taught and what materials should be used in classrooms.

“Every family should be engaged in activities that ensure the rising generation is properly prepared to be informed citizens,” Baow said. “Every student deserves a rich and engaging education about America’s triumphs, treacheries, losses, and victories. Our touchstone is our shared principle that all Americans have infinite value and individual freedom and responsibility. We must strive to find common goals and values as a nation, not tear each other and our country apart.”

Last week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill that outlawed state teachers to instruct on critical race theory and other “social justice” issues.

The proposed federal rule on these new educational priorities is open for public comment until May 19.

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Gordon Says He Will Get Involved In School Funding Debate

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

It is time for the debate over Wyoming’s education system to move away from simple arguments over spending, so Gov. Mark Gordon will involve himself in the discussion, he said Thursday.

Gordon, discussing the recently completed general session of the Legislature, said the state has failed to address the “fiscal cliff” faced by its schools, largely because legislative discussions about funding problems have focused either on cutting spending or increasing taxes.

“I believe there is a third, perhaps more profitable approach, sort of taking a customer service approach,” he said. “What is it that our customers really want? What do our parents want from education, what do our businesses, what do our students want?

Gordon said he was disappointed lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise on school funding during the session that ended Wednesday.

According to state estimates, the state’s schools will face a funding shortfall of about $300 million a year, due largely to declining tax revenues from the state’s mineral sector.

Gordon said moving forward, he will take a role in the discussions, creating a group to focus on what services the state’s schools should be providing and then determining a budget to meet those needs.

“I think the discussion has moved from (what schools should deliver) to more of one that more money equals more education,” he said. “I’m looking at sending people out into the community … to get to know what people want from education.”

Gordon also said said he hopes the Legislature does not decide to use federal money awarded the state under the American Rescue Plan to make up shortfalls in state agencies.

The Legislature is expected to meet this summer to look at ways to spend the $1.1 billion the state is expected to receive from the program.

But Gordon said lawmakers should focus on how to solve the state’s financial problems in the long-term rather than use the federal funds for short-term relief.

“I really hope they don’t put off the substantial conversations that have to take place today, tomorrow and the next day to build that sustainable future,” he said.

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Bill Proposing New Sales Tax For Schools Moves to Wyoming Senate

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

One down, one to go.

A pair of bills proposing increases in the statewide sales tax being debated in the Wyoming House of Representatives saw divided fortunes Tuesday.

Each proposed a statewide sales tax, one to benefit schools and the other to benefit local governments.

But the bill that backers said would have provided a stable funding source for cities and counties through a new sales tax died on a vote of 10-50, while the bill that would help fund schools around Wyoming lives on.

House Bill 173, which lays out a formula for funding the state’s schools, would allow a one-half cent sales tax to be imposed statewide that would help reduce the $300 million deficit currently facing Wyoming schools – but only if the state’s reserve account falls below $650 million.

Brian Farmer, executive director for the Wyoming School Boards Association, said the tax included in the education bill seeks to offset the downturn in the mineral industry revenues that have historically funded education in the state.

“We know that for the last 12 to 15 years we’ve been incredibly heavily reliant on the mineral industry,” he pointed out. “But as the landscape changes, as the mineral economy is changing, the state is probably in need of reviewing its revenue sources. Our traditional revenue sources are not what they used to be; our expenditures maintain, and they do grow because of inflation.”

But the bill doesn’t just propose an increase in taxes. 

“It involves cuts,” he said. “Looking at where might we be able to make reductions that would have the least impact to classrooms and school districts.”

But he said, make no mistake about it, cuts mean job losses.

“When 85% of (a school’s) budget is tied up in people, there really just is nowhere to keep that entirely away from impacting people,” Farmer said. “If you have cuts that are in the neighborhood of 10%, you will be seeing job losses within school districts.”

Farmer pointed out that in every community, school districts are among the top three employers – and if teachers lose their jobs, they are likely to move out of those communities rather than find a job in another field. That means fewer dollars circulating in Wyoming communities.

He added that revenue transfers are also addressed in the bill – diverting some income for the state’s savings accounts to current education needs.

Farmer explained that if imposed, the sales tax could generate around $80 million each biennium. 

“So, that new revenue, combined with some cuts, combined with some revenue transfers, really goes a long way to plugging that $300 million hole,” he said.

He added he is hopeful that Wyoming’s historic high regard for education will sway legislators to support additional funding for schools.

“From the beginning of our territorial days, Gov. Campbell, the very first Governor of Wyoming, called education ‘the cornerstone of the new state,’” he said. “So from the very beginning, we’ve gone forward and built an education system that’s an envy of the nation.”

“And if we lose that, we threaten the quality of education, we threaten the very economy of Wyoming,” he added.

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Wyo Education: Value Of Four-Day Week Depends On School, Balow Says

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – those are the times that families expect their kids to be in school. The times that teachers expect to be in front of their classrooms.

But the “traditional” view of school days and times is changing – even in Wyoming. 

Right now, according to the Wyoming Department of Education, 26 school districts in the state have moved to a four-day school week to meet the changing needs of students and staff.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said the benefits of a four-day week vary from school district to school district.

“For students, it gives them sometimes longer class periods during the four-day week where they can work more with teachers and interact with their peers,” she said, adding that Fridays are often utilized for intervention or enrichment activities for students. 

“We see this a lot in our smaller school districts,” she said, pointing to her own experience as a teacher in the tiny town of Hulett in northeast Wyoming.

“I can tell you that there are lots of Fridays that because of sports, there may be 50% to 60% of the school gone for the better part of the day – so a four day school week also allows for a school district to make some some decisions about making sure kids are in school for those four days, and then activities are on Friday,” she said.

Balow noted the shift can sometimes be based on financial issues.

“Financial gains or losses really need to be analyzed and realized at the local level,” she said. “In some cases, it might be a financial gain to have a four-day week. And in some cases, it might cost a little bit more, just depending on how it how it is worked.”

But she added that no matter the school’s decision, the one thing that must remain unchanged is the number of hours the students are in the classroom.

“Whether they do it within four days or five days, the student contact hours are the very same,” she said. “And they have to assure the state Legislature and my department and the State Board of Education that they are meeting those those contact hours for students.”

Jimmy Phelps is the superintendent for Washakie County School District No. 2 in Ten Sleep. Currently, the school operates on a schedule of four full days of classes with an alternating early release schedule on Fridays.

This spring, the school board was contemplating making a move to a four-day school week. But ultimately, he said, there wasn’t enough support for the measure to pass.

“I set up a task force that had 16 members,” he explained. “It included staff members, parents, stakeholders, and we looked at various aspects of it. We talked to members of other districts, and then we put out a survey to our stakeholders, and we had a very good response number from those.”

Responses to the survey in support of the measure included the idea that a four-day week promotes better mental and emotional health for students; opposition to the proposal stemmed in part from the fact the change would force parents to rework their schedules. In addition, some respondents saw no problem with the current schedule. 

Additionally, respondents noted that the school has more pressing issues to consider right now than a change to the weekly schedule.

In the end, Phelps said, there wasn’t enough support for the board to approve the change.

“There were more that had a definite yes, than definitely no, but there still wasn’t more than 50%,” he said. “So this task force felt like there wasn’t enough community support to recommend to the board a four-day week, for next year.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Niobrara County. George Mirich, the superintendent for the school district there, said the district moved to a four-day school week in 2019 for a number of reasons.

“One, we needed more time for professional development,” he explained. “And we needed to curtail our time out of classroom activities – between all of our activities, the low number of students and the high number of teachers involved in these activities as far as sponsors and coaches and such, we were missing school multiple times in the same week.”

Mirich said about 300 students attend school in the district, and on any given day, 30 students could be missing class to take part in any number of activities.

“And Fridays, a lot of times, we’d be missing half our kids and most of our teachers,” he adds.

So it’s worked out well for the schools in Lusk, according to Mirich.

But for Ten Sleep, the issue is now moot.

At a meeting that was held March 8, Phelps said the school board for Washakie County School District No. 2 closed down the discussion about moving to a four day week.

“It doesn’t mean it may not ever come up again, but there was nothing in the motion that the board approved about considering this in the future,” he said.

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Education Most Pressing Issue Of Session, Gordon Says In State of the State

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining the state’s quality of education is the most important issue facing the Legislature during its general session, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, in delivering his “state of the state” address to a joint session of the Legislature, told lawmakers the state could no longer rely on traditional sources of revenue to support education.

“We have relied, for years, on a funding model that is no longer sustainable,” he said. “The handwriting is on the wall. The can we kick down the road every year is broken. We have to deal with this issue.”

With the slump in the state’s mineral industry, particularly in coal production, funding for the state and its schools has dropped sharply. The school funding bill making its way through the Legislature would cut millions of dollars in how much the state gives to its schools and proposes new taxes if necessary to maintain funding.

But Gordon urged lawmakers, as they look at resolving the funding problems facing schools, to look at the issue more broadly than just one of revenue shortfalls.

“This is far more than a budget issue and I want our stakeholders and our communities to be involved in establishing a plan and vision,” he said.

Among the ideas he endorsed was a consolidation of early childhood learning programs, now found in four separate state agencies, into two agencies, the departments of Education and Family Services.

He also discussed the value of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a program launched in January to improve collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges to better prepare students for the workplace.

“Education is changing,” he said. “Work is changing. People want, and need, more opportunities and approaches. Wyoming needs to respond. We know our financial challenges will likely necessitate it.”

Education was one of a number of issues Gordon touched upon during his address, which was delivered on the second day of the Legislature’s one-month in-person session.

Gordon also discussed the state’s financial problems, which forced him to cut state spending by $250 million in 2020 and propose another $500 million in budget cuts in his supplemental budget.

“Undeniably, we are entering more frugal times and we will have to continue to temper wants and emphasize needs,” he told lawmakers. “It is now your turn to consider how best to meet the needs of our people without burdening the generations to come.”

Much of the state’s financial troubles can be traced to slumps in the state’s energy and mineral industries and Gordon said the policies of President Joe Biden could further threaten those industries.

“In just a few weeks, through a series of executive orders, cabinet appointments and policy announcements, we are facing a clear and present threat to our long-term core industries,” he said. “All decisions from D.C. must now pass a superficial, climate litmus test that ignores jobs, cost, reliability and in many cases, real climate solutions. In D.C., they claim to follow the science, but they adopt policies that resemble science fiction.”

Gordon said while he looks forward to the contributions the wind and solar power industries can make to the state, he continues to support a diversified approach to meeting power needs.

“To achieve meaningful climate goals, and provide a resilient affordable energy supply, fossil fuels, coupled with a commitment to improving the ways we utilize them, must remain a substantial supply option,” he said. “I will continue to fight for our state’s future and defend the right to responsibly develop all of our resources.”

Despite financial problems and the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the state is strong, Gordon said, adding that the Legislature will need to remain focused to help move Wyoming past the pandemic with legislation aimed at encouraging existing businesses, economic development and luring new business to the state.

“I am sure there will be temptations to get sidetracked with politically oriented legislation, but this year, we have to keep our eye on the ball,” he said. “Because we are only going to have one chance to turn this welcomed spring into a thriving summer and a bountiful future.”

Gordon thanked the state’s residents, particularly state employees, health care workers and teachers, for their hard to work to keep the state moving during the worst of the past year.

“Today I can say, with pride and confidence, that the state of our state is strong,” he said. “Not because our economy is as robust as it was a year ago, for that’s certainly not the case. Not because we are free of this dreadful virus, because it is still a pain. Not because we have solved all of our budget problems, for we have yet to face that piper.

“It is because we are the people we are: weathered, tested and resilient,” he continued. “We are a stubborn people, unwilling to concede during tough times. It is that resolute spirit that is our greatest asset. That, I believe, will see us through these times.”

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Balow, Other State Superintendents Ask Biden to Reconsider Energy Lockdown

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow has joined four other western state school superintendents in asking President Joe Biden to reconsider his recent energy lockdown.

Balow was joined by her colleagues from North Dakota, Montana, Alaska and Utah in sending a letter to the president telling him the moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands would decimate school funding in their states.

“It is unusual that state education leaders would be in a position to warrant this letter,” send the letter, which was sent Wednesday. “We write to oppose the actions taken to ban oil and gas leases on federal land and to curtail production and transmission of the commodities.”

Biden issued an executive order in late January halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

But the school chiefs noted that in their states, schools depend on income from energy production.

“As state education chiefs we have appreciated generous access to your education transition team and we had multiple opportunities to discuss schools safely reopening, student well-being, and academic priorities,” the letter said. “It is imperative that we bring to light the arbitrary and inequitable move to shut down oil and gas production on federal lands in our states that depend on revenues from various taxes, royalties, disbursements, and lease payments to fund our schools, community infrastructure and public services.”

The letter specifically noted that in Wyoming, the oil and natural gas industry contributed $740 million in K-12 education funding and $28 million to the state’s higher education system in 2019.

Almost all, 92%, of Wyoming’s natural gas comes from federal lands, as does 51% of the oil produced in the state.

“The ban translates into the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for education and 13,300 direct jobs in a state of 500,000,” the letter said.

For Montana, $30 million in revenue and more than 3,000 jobs are at risk because of the moratorium, the letter said.

In North Dakota, the lease moratorium would result in 13,000 lost jobs over four years, along with $600 million in lost tax revenue and a $750 million loss in personal income. North Dakota’s oil and gas industry accounts for 24,000 direct jobs in the state.

In Utah, $72 million in revenue and 11,000 jobs are at stake. 

In Alaska, over $24 million in state revenue is tied to federal leases for oil and natural gas, along with 3,500 jobs.

“As state education chiefs, we place equity and quality at the forefront of policy making,” the letter said. “We care deeply about clean air and clean water for future generations. And, we advocate fiercely for adequate funding for all students in all schools. Reform of the industry is necessary and can be accomplished, but not by abruptly restricting industries that define our culture and the generate revenue on which so many rely.” 

A University of Wyoming study commissioned by the Legislature concluded that a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land could reduce Wyoming’s production by $872 million per year, costing the state more than $300 million a year in tax revenue.

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Gen Z’ers and Millennials Believe Punctuation is Hostile

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By Jennifer Kocher, County 17

Anthony Monteleone learned the hard way what happens when you throw in a period at the end of a text.

The Campbell County High School senior had been having a good day, he said, and wanted to randomly share the thought with his buddies. Without thinking about it, he added a period at the end and hit send. 

Immediately, his pals wanted to know what was wrong.

“Everyone thought I was being sarcastic or something,” he said with a laugh. “I really just wanted to say that I was having a good day.”

To many people above the age of 30, the period is a seemingly innocuous punctuation symbol used to mark the end of the sentence. 

To Gen Z’ers and millennials, however, it’s considered a form of aggression when used in a text, or worse, a sign that a person is taking themselves far too seriously.

Text messages, Monteleone explained, are meant to be loose thoughts or casual conversations between friends. Adding a period, therefore, makes it “a serious conversation,” which, breaks with text etiquette and apparently puts some teens on edge because like all caps, or capital letters, it feels like they’re being yelled at.

“Most people reserve a period for when they want to make a serious point,” he said.

Some people are much more offended by text punctuation than others, explained CCHS junior Danielle Beightol, who said she doesn’t put a lot of thought into the underlying emotions that text punctuation may or may not convey.

“It depends on the person or group of people,” she further clarified. In her case, it’s not really a big deal, she said, because she doesn’t put a lot of credence into over-analyzing the purpose and tone of her texts. For her, it’s just a loose mode of conversation and a way to communicate otherwise mundane info between pals.

“Others read too deeply into it,” she said.

Monteleone said he thinks that teens overanalyze texts because they lack the verbal cues and human-to-human contact, so some people are overly cautious in the absence of context.

“You learn to compensate in a different format,” he said. “You scramble for the tiniest details to convey tone.”

Both teens clarified that this no-period etiquette is reserved for their peers, and both use punctuation freely when communicating with adults, teachers, or bosses, which they see as a form of professionalism that transcends whether or not a person is cool.

Likewise, this non-punctuation stance is reserved for text messages, both further clarified, and doesn’t apply to schoolwork or even posting on social media.

It also doesn’t correlate to reading books, Monteleone noted.

“It’s not like we read a book and feel like we’re being yelled at,” he said with a laugh. “We understand the difference.”

Ellipses, or the dot-dot-dot (…) as it’s informally known, is a much more casual, drawn-out cousin of the period used to indicate the intentional omission of a word or information to follow. For this reason, it’s much “softer” and denotes a “pause in thought” as opposed to an abrupt hard stop, Beightol and Monteleone both explained.

Likewise, exclamation marks, are dully acceptable despite their otherwise excitable and dramatic role in a sentence. But unlike the period, teens don’t put much emotional stock in the punctuation mark.

“We don’t take them seriously,” Beightol said. “They’re just kinda funny or sarcastic.”

Meanwhile, CCHS English teacher Tim Bessett was surprised to learn about the no-period rule, which until yesterday, he was blithely unaware.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Bessett said, noting he’s one of those uncool adults who texts in complete sentences with punctuation. His students nodded. They get it. When communicating with him, they always make a point to properly punctuate.

After talking to his students, Bessett learned that the length of a text message or whether it contains a period seems to have the biggest impact, at times, more so than even the body of the text. For example, he cited one student who told him that she was really put off by her mother who responded to her text question with “OK.” The capitals, on top of a period, put the teen into a headspin.

“She thought her mother was being aggressive or snooty about the request,” Bessett explained.

The looseness of grammar in texts and social media posts appears to not only be relegated to casual communication, however. As an English teacher, who also teaches theater, senior speech and speech and debate and has been at CCHS for 16 years, Bessett said the lack of attention to punctuation is becoming an ongoing battle that every year seems to get a little worse.

“I will have a number of students who can’t use punctuation,” he said. “There’s definitely a breakdown.”

Particularly, he sees students struggling with punctuation, capitalization, fragments, and run-on sentences, skills his students spend a lot of time rebuilding when they first enter his class.

Several studies seem to confirm Bessett’s belief that the way young people – and even adults – correspond on social media tends to work against grammatical skills and proper sentence structure as texting becomes almost like a second language.

The quick back and forth “culture of mobile communication” inevitably has compromised traditional, cultural writing, according to S. Shyam Sundar, professor of communications and co-director of Pennsylvania State University’s Media Effects Research Laboratory, which conducted the 2012 “Techspeak” study of 13- to 17 year olds.

Sundar and his researchers found that prevalent texting has eroded the foundation of basic grammar, suggesting that the teens can’t “code switch” between standard grammar and the abbreviations used in texts. Moreover, researchers found that tweens between 10 to 14 who are text savvy tended to score worse on grammar tests.

Regardless, as an English teacher, Bessett spends a lot of time helping students rebuild the skills, so they’ll, in essence, be fluent in two languages that serve two entirely different purposes.

For their part, Monteleone and Beightol say that both skills are useful, and they find it easy to switch back and forth between the two forms of communication.

It’s just another way to convey information, they shrug. No period necessary.

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Wyoming School Board Association Opposes School Consolidation Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming School Board Association has expressed its opposition to a recently proposed bill that would consolidate Wyoming’s school district from 48 to 24.

House Bill 77 is sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, and co-sponsored by a number of other legislators, including Rep. Chuck Gray and Sen. Lynn Hutchings.

“I think it’s fairly evident the Wyoming School Board Association opposes this bill,” WBSA executive director Brian Farmer told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “One of the things that’s fundamental to us is local control and local governance. Plus, many schools act as the center of their small communities.”

This bill proposes each of Wyoming’s 23 counties should have one school district, along with one district for the Wind River Reservation.

Farmer noted that the state’s last major effort at consolidating school districts occurred in the 1970s and could be described as “tense.”

“I’ve heard stories of fist fights when it came to school consolidation,” he said.

Fremont County has eight school districts and Uinta County, which has three, are considered prime examples of counties with too many school districts in Zwonitzer’s opinion.

On the other hand, Natrona County only has one district and Laramie County has two. The two are the state’s largest counties by population.

“My overall goal is not to impact teacher pay or put 35 kids in a classroom,” Zwonitzer told Cowboy State Daily this week. “This won’t be the be-all, end-all solution, but if we could save 10% to 15% of our budget with this, that’s huge.”

Farmer said that consolidation could happen in some counties on a case-by-case basis, but lawmakers and administrators would need to ask how consolidation would benefit the community and where consolidation would be the most beneficial.

Instead of consolidating school districts, Farmer suggested sharing resources as a cost-saving measure.

“For example, a couple districts want to offer the same language program. Then, you could get a teacher to go to different schools in the county and teach that program, instead of hiring a separate teacher for each school,” Farmer said. “The sharing of resources across district boundaries certainly would be worthwhile.”

The Wyoming Education Association did not respond to a request for comment regarding the bill.

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Cheyenne Lawmaker Proposes Reducing Wyoming’s School Districts

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne legislator has proposed cutting Wyoming’s school districts in half to save the state money.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer recently introduced House Bill 77, which would cut the amount of Wyoming’s school districts in half, down from 48 to 24 (one per Wyoming county and one for the Wind River Reservation).

“My overall goal is not to impact teacher pay or put 35 kids in a classroom,” Zwonitzer told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “This won’t be the be-all, end-all solution, but if we could save 10% to 15% of our budget with this, that’s huge.”

The bill is co-sponsored by five other representatives and two senators, including Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne. It was received for introduction last week and Zwonitzer expected it to be sent to committee sometime this week.

Zwonitzer said the idea behind the bill was to find a way to cut administration and transportation costs rather than reducing teacher salaries or the classroom experience.

“We might lose some administrators, but my thinking is that schools will be forced to find the same efficiencies that the state government has had to do over the last five years,” the representative said.

He pointed to Fremont County, which has eight school districts, and Uinta County, which has three, as prime examples of counties with too many school districts.

On the other hand, Natrona County only has one district and Laramie County has two. The two are the state’s largest counties by population.

“You shouldn’t have more school districts than you do legislators,” Zwonitzer said. “There’s no reason to have a school district with fewer than 1,000 kids. We’re losing 1% of the population every year, so it doesn’t justify having 48 school districts across the state.”

The Wyoming Education Association did not respond to a request for comment regarding the bill.

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Balow Slams Biden’s Energy Moratorium on Fox

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow on Monday harshly criticized President Joe Biden’s moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands as a threat to Wyoming’s schools.

Speaking with host Fox News Dana Perino, Balow compared Biden’s actions to restrict oil and gas production to those taken by former President Barack Obama (whose administration Biden served as vice president) during his time in office.

“This is a different kind of lockdown that we’re talking about,” Balow said. “This is a lockdown of an industry that our students in Wyoming really depend on. Day seven of President Biden’s presidency, we would see a near shutdown of the industry that we rely on for public education.”

Oil and natural gas production provide about $740 million in funding for Wyoming’s public schools, Balow said.

Biden issued an executive order last week halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

Balow called the executive order “arbitrary” and said Biden was targeting a few states in the Mountain West that have both a wealth of federal land and resources.

“This is significant,” she said. “What we know in Wyoming is that this could be, by modest estimates, about $150 million a year in lost revenue within just a couple of years.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso retweeted the clip of Balow’s appearance on Monday, agreeing that the moratorium would have a significant impact on Wyoming’s schools.

“This morning, WY State Superintendent @jillian4supt discussed on @FoxNews how @POTUS’ energy lockdown is detrimental to WY schools. Revenues from WY oil & gas contribute about $740 million to WY public education. This will have a significant negative impact on kids in our state,” he said.

Other orders signed by Biden in his first days in office included one for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.

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Due to Pandemic-Related Teacher Shortage, UW Students Encouraged To Substitute Teach

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

University of Wyoming education students are being asked to fill in as substitute teachers around the state.

Gov. Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, in a letter sent to students at the UW’s College of Education, asked those who are certified as substitute teachers to act as substitutes during the period between the UW’s fall and spring semesters.

School districts around the state have reported a shortage of substitute teachers due to the coronavirus.

“Our school districts are struggling to staff their schools due to teacher/staff shortages caused by illness and exposure,” the letter said. “Teachers, paraprofessionals and school administrators are all pitching in to cover classes, but the current situation is not sustainable. If you are willing to serve our communities and our students by substitute teaching, please consider doing so.”

The letter also encouraged all of the university’s students with at least 60 hours of college credit in their area of study, the minimum needed to be a substitute teacher, to seek certification from the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board.

According to a news release from Gordon’s office, several hundred College of Education students are certified as substitute teachers.

Those serving as substitute teachers will receive wages paid by local school districts and will be eligible for a service credit from the university.

Leslie Rush, interim dean of the College of Education, said students can also gain practical classroom experience by serving as substitutes.

“Students can fill a critical need in the state while gaining a great deal individually from the experience,” Rush said.

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LCCC Eliminating 30+ Positions, Reorganizing Programs Due To Budget Shortfall

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne is going through a major reorganization and reduction process, eliminating more than 30 positions and eyeing certain programs for changes.

Thirty-three positions will be eliminated by the end of the year at the community college, 9% of its 383-person workforce, LCCC president Dr. Joe Schaffer told Cowboy State Daily. Seventeen of those positions are currently filled.

This comes just four years after the college eliminated 16 positions, again to deal with budget shortfalls.

“I just can’t predict whether or not there will be a rebound in the coal, oil or gas industries, so we have to approach this situation as if it’s permanent and long-term,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer presented a list of recommendations regarding multiple position cuts and structural reorganizations to programs at the college to LCCC’s board of trustees earlier this week.

The president and a number of other LCCC officials have been working on these recommendations since July, as the college is facing a 10% cut from its state appropriations. LCCC needed to make about $3.5 million in cuts, although officials are expecting the college will see a $4.1 million deficit.

In addition to cutting 33 positions, Schaffer recommended other cuts such as closing the LCCC outreach facility in Pine Bluffs, reducing all departments’ operating budgets, reducing athletics expenditures and eliminating short and long-term disability benefits, among others.

Schaffer said that while the coronavirus had an impact to the college’s budget, the cuts were something that had been coming for a while, due to enrollment being down and the community college receiving fewer appropriated funds from Laramie County and the Wyoming Legislature.

The college receives funding from three sources: Laramie County, the Legislature and tuition. Schaffer said he believes tuition rates have already been increasing far too frequently, causing him to worry that community colleges in Wyoming could soon become unaffordable.

“These are painful processes and while I realize them because of a financial corner we’ve been backed into, I hope it becomes a wakeup call, albeit a painful one,” Schaffer said. “This will allow everyone to think about what kind of future we want and look at proactive changes that can be made.”

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Wyoming Dept. Of Education Receives Nearly $100K Microsoft Grant For Computer Science Training

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In some non-coronavirus related news for Wyoming, the state’s Department of Education announced it received a grant from Microsoft for nearly $100,000.

The WDE received $93,245 in grants from Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative and the Digital Skills for Youth program, which will support computer science teacher training as a part of Boot Up Wyoming, a statewide program launched in 2018 to implement computer science in the state’s K-12 schools.

“Microsoft has been a key partner in Boot Up Wyoming since day one,” said Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “Funds from this Digital Skills for Youth grant keep us on-track to deliver the highest-quality Computer Science education to all Wyoming students.” 

A portion of the grant will enable the WDE’s Boot Up Wyoming initiative to provide a second round of strategic training on how computer science can be implemented in school districts, called Strategic CSforALL Resource and Implementation Planning Tool (SCRIPT) training.

CSforALL is an organization dedicated to making computer science part of every K-12 student’s education. The training provides districts with strategic planning tools to think through what is needed to provide equitable, high-quality computer science education available to all students in their districts. 

In its first year, SCRIPT provided training for 24 school districts working to adopt computer science classes, said Laurel Ballard, the supervisor of the WDE’s student and teacher resources team.

She added with the grant, the WDE will be able to make training available to more districts while continuing the training in the first 24 districts.

“I will take as many (new districts) as want to do it,” she said.

The biggest benefit of the program is that it has allowed school districts to compare notes on their challenges and successes as they implement computer science classes.

“It gives them the chance to come together,” she said. “They come together and learn together.”

The grant will also be used to provide resources for the Wyoming chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a group of professional computer science teachers that has emerged as a valuable training resource for the state’s teachers, the WDE said.

In addition, the grant will provide the WDE with support for developing high-quality computer science micro-credentials for secondary teachers and students.

“Wyoming was one of the first states to implement computer science education in grades K-12 – now almost every state offers it,” Balow said. “This funding helps us remain pioneers by enabling the WDE to continue to provide professional development to educators focused around Computer Science education.”

Much discussion has been had regarding the computer science implementations over the last couple years. By law, these standards have to be implemented by the 2022-23 school year.

Some districts like Laramie County School District No. 1, Platte County School District No. 2 and Sheridan County School District No. 1 are already working to implement standards, but other schools will need more time to learn them and incorporate them into the curriculum. 

Last year, state Attorney General Bridget Hill addressed the Wyoming State Board of Education to provide some recommendations about how the standards could be better written before their implementation into statewide school mandates.

“There are three types of state standards: content, performance and graduation,” Hill wrote in her recommendation. “The proposed computer science standards use three different labels (priority, supporting and enhanced). The word ‘benchmarks’ can refer to either the discrete items of knowledge that compose the standards or the grade-level or grade-band targets where those items must be taught.” 

In her conclusion, Hill noted that just because these standards will be mandatory for all schools, this doesn’t mean all students will have to learn all of them.

She reiterated that the board should determine graduation requirements to include the computer science standards component and content benchmarks that should be mastered in lower grade levels and only create performance standards for those benchmarks. 

“Wyoming’s vision is that every student has the opportunity to be met where they are — at their skill-level, in their school — and be inspired to learn how technology works and how to build solutions to society’s challenges. We strongly support that vision,” Dennis Ellis, manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark Wyoming, said in a statement on Thursday.

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Documentary To Showcase Wyoming Students On Road Trip; Applicants Needed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The makers of a documentary about a road trip across Wyoming are looking for some Wyoming students to make the trip.

Roadtrip Nation, an online educational documentary series and company, will send Wyoming students out in a green RV to “talk to their heroes, job crushes and anyone who’s generally doing awesome stuff.”

Their experiences will be filmed and turned into a documentary to “inspire people to pursue their interests.”

Topics explored during the Wyoming road trip and documentary will include health care, manufacturing, outdoor recreation, technology and more.

Applications are due by Oct. 4 and the road trip won’t kick off until April, but the schedule might shift due to the coronavirus pandemic. Applicants must be 18-24, but can be in high school, a recent high school graduate or a post-secondary student.

The documentaries are aired on the Roadtrip Nation website and the Wyoming one will likely debut sometime next fall.

Other college road trips have included students from Georgia, California and Texas.

All travel expenses, plus a daily food stipend, are provided by Roadtrip Nation.

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Goshen County School District Discovers Challenges Of Contact Tracing

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By Alex Hargrave, Torrington Telegram

TORRINGTON — A Torrington High School student tested positive for COVID19 after reportedly showing symptoms. 

Goshen County School District No. 1 community members were notified of the district’s first case on Sunday night, and contact tracing is taking place, according to a text from the school district. 

GCSD Superintendent Ryan Kramer said Goshen County Public Health will work with the state in its contact tracing, and the district will provide them with information as necessary. Students, parents and district staff will continue to receive notifications of positive cases without specific identifying information. 

“Anytime we have a positive case, we’ll have it just at the school that they are located and that’ll be all the discerning information, because we don’t want to violate any HIPAA regulations,” Kramer said. 

However, young students present challenges in contact tracing, as “they are unable to effectively participate in contact tracing interviews, they cannot reliably determine who they have interacted with at school, and parents are not able to provide this information,” according to Wyoming Department of Health guidance on information disclosure in the event of a teacher, student or staff member testing positive.

In these cases, minimal student information will be released to the school’s principal and nurse to determine other students and staff who may have been exposed to the student and to direct sanitization efforts in order to better protect the health of students and staff, said Goshen County Public Health Emergency Response Coordinator Heather Saul.

Individuals deemed to have been in close contact with the student have been identified by public health and asked to isolate or quarantine and to take a  COVID-19 test.

“Close contact is if you’re less than six feet [apart] for longer than 15 minutes,” Saul said. “And even wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, they still consider that an exposure.” 

Saul said public health does not currently know how many community members have been asked to quarantine. 

Middle and high schools present more opportunity for community spread, as students move from classroom to classroom throughout the day and participate in extracurricular activities. 

“If the student was in practice or whatnot, [public health] contacted the coach and then they went from that way,” Saul said. 

According to Saul, GCPH is in the process of determining what percentage of positive cases in schools would require them to move from tier one to tiers two or three. 

Kramer said the county and state will determine if and when individual schools move tiers, but two factors are important in the decision. 

“There’s a certain threshold in regard to the positivity rate in schools, and also the positivity rate in the community,” Kramer said. 

“Everybody’s being contacted, those that we feel that have been exposed, so we’re on top of it and staying on top of it and we’re in communication with the school,” Saul said.

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Cameras in classroom would increase school accountability

in Ray Peterson/Column/Education
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By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY 

Accountability from our schools has been an ongoing concern for years as the Legislature has struggled to understand how much the state spends for the results received. I remember a bill I sponsored years ago in an attempt to address this issue. 

The measure was nicknamed the “camera bill,” but its actual title was “Improving Teacher Evaluations.” It passed introduction, only to fail in the Senate Education Committee by one vote. Simply put, it was a concept for a pilot program to put cameras in the classroom to use for evaluations and provide security for both teachers and students. 

I thought it was an ideal time to implement the concept as we were building schools at a fast pace. The pilot program was to involve four schools, each of a different size, around our state. The program would continue for one year and a report on its effectiveness would be given to the Legislature.

The nexus of this concept came when I asked a few retired teachers how they were evaluated over the many years they had taught. Their answers were varied and inconsistent, which led me to believe that teacher evaluations across our state were somewhat of a “hit and miss” process. Stories of teachers suing school districts for wrongful termination or superintendents being reluctant to fire teachers with guaranteed contract status because of the personal hits they took led me to take a serious look at the evaluation process or how we might improve the process to address these concerns.

Think of it! The student and teacher would never know if the principal or instructional facilitator were watching! This alone would have a positive affect for both the student and the instructor. 

I only wish that every citizen from our state could have seen my presentation of this bill to the Senate Education Committee. Many certainly would have been entertained while listening to the point/counter-point between the Wyoming Education Association representatives and myself. It was classic. Perhaps this is where I made myself an enemy to these folks. 

Anyway, this idea was meant to be an additional tool an administrator could use to evaluate teachers. No disruption of the classroom with personal visits, no tip-off to give the teacher a chance to prepare. And the best part? Now a recording could be reviewed by the teacher, principal, the instructional facilitator and one of the parents of a student. 

Wait, a parent? How dare we suggest such a thing! Hold on, let me explain. The parent was to attend the viewing and submit a simplified evaluation form. Did the teacher seem prepared? Did he or she seem to maintain class discipline? Simple and basic questions. Then the parent representative would be asked to leave. Then the three people remaining in the room would get down to business while making recommendations and assignments for improvements as needed. The instructional facilitator would be assigned to work with the teacher in certain areas and all three would be required to sign off on the evaluation report. A work plan for improvement would be made, assignments given and a follow-up visit would be set to re-evaluate for these areas to be worked on. Think of the effect this would have on wrongful termination lawsuits. Or more importantly, how the schools could address the strengths or shortcomings of a teacher or administrator!

So why the parent involvement? In order for this to work, we must first, insure that the evaluations are happening. The parents group representative attends the monthly school board meeting to report on how many evaluations parents have participated in that month. Now everyone is on the hook! Not just our teachers and students but everyone from parents to administrators. No personnel problems or employee confidences are threatened. Just a quick report on whether the evaluations are happening to the school board and superintendent. 

Make no mistake, evaluations are the hardest part of school administration, but also the most critical. New school buildings and curriculum have less to do with a student’s education than a teacher’s desire and ability to teach. I would encourage parents around our state to ask their school administrators how teacher evaluations are performed in their own school districts. How often they are performed? How is the follow up performed? Who is involved in carrying out the improvement plans for an under-performing teacher? What you may find out could surprise you. It is as varied as you could imagine, from no evaluations to some. 

When I asked for myself, I was surprised to find out that the teacher was asked by the principal if the principal could attend a class sometime in the future. The time was set by the teacher and I’m sure the preparation began. I’m sure everything went to plan and the evaluation was deemed a success. I thought to myself, ‘How many things were wrong with this type of an evaluation?’ From reporting the evaluation to the effectiveness of the actual evaluation. Where was the hook or accountability for any of the players that we deem critical to our child’s education?

Second, we would reduce the wasteful wrongful termination lawsuits. Not only would we have documentation of the evaluations signed by all parties, but also from the instructional facilitator. This person is the best qualified teacher in each district, assigned the task of assisting other teachers become better instructors. The principal and the instructional facilitator would both work at improving the quality of teaching in our schools. This would also reduce concerns of personal attacks, inconsistent evaluations, new administration, personality conflicts and surprise terminations. Proper and consistent evaluations should remove all of these concerns.

Third, this proposal would involve and make more players accountable than just our teachers. Parents need to be more involved. How could a principal use the recording of a parent’s child struggling in one of their classes? How could parents reporting to the school board each month help improve the performance of our principals in conducting regular evaluations? If I were serving on a school board and the parents reported to us that they had been invited to only one evaluation that semester in a school with more than 20 teachers, I would think that we have a problem in evaluating our teachers consistently and properly.

Finally, this program would focus the efforts of not only our teachers and students but also our instructional facilitators, principals, parents, school board members and superintendents on educational excellence. If we really believe that education is the most important thing we do in this state, then I would ask the question, what is wrong with this concept? These are public institutions of learning and we have the technology to improve our efforts, so why not implement a pilot program to see what the effects might be? 

As a closing thought, having cameras in most parts of a school would only add to the security of our students and faculty. Bullying would be handled properly with video evidence being used to show all parties involved. 

Throwing additional money at a problem does not always solve the problem. Sometimes more effort is required. Maybe some courageous legislator can blow the dust off of my old bill and introduce it again. But beware of those that want nothing to do with accountability in our schools because they will come out in droves in opposition to this effort. More money is what they want.

I remain convinced that if implemented, this one improvement could do more for the quality of education in this state than anything else we could possibly do. More so than additional money or higher salaries, new buildings, more activities or even improved curriculum. This one effort to improve evaluations in our schools would hit the bullseye for boosting the quality of education in Wyoming. It would certainly eliminate the wrongful termination lawsuits. It would blow a hole through the guaranteed contract status of teachers and would provide the proper incentive to continually improve education efforts in schools. 

I’ve always believed that if evaluations were done correctly, we would have better teachers, happier teachers, accomplished teachers and better test scores for our students. Is it any wonder why our friends at the WEA were opposed to this concept? It did not fit with their desire for higher wages, guaranteed positions with less accountability. Perhaps it’s time for a new organization that puts our students first. W4E. Wyoming For Education. I would hope that such an organization would not fear innovation, technology, accountability, and responsibility.

Now who is serious about educating our children?

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018. He lives in Cowley.

Education is already state’s top expense — why spend more?

in Column/Education
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By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY

I never served on the Senate Education Committee, but participated in many discussions on school funding formulas, education expenses, school construction, curriculum, teacher salaries and administrative costs. 

I did have the opportunity to serve six years on the Appropriations Committee and on the latest Recalibration Committee as well as the School Facilities Select Committee and so, like most legislators voting on these matters, I couldn’t help but learn about the issues facing education.

Recently the Joint Education Committee met and narrowly passed a proposal for a $19 million increase to the education funding model. This bill will go to the full Legislature in February for a vote. 

I question the need for yet another increase to education funding, considering the fact spending on our public schools is already the largest of all the state’s budget expenditures. In addition, an annual automatic adjustment to education to account for inflation already adds $15 million a year to the cost. So Wyoming ranks No. 1 in our region for education spending and No. 5 in the country.

It leaves me shaking my head that the Education Committee is once again recommending even more spending increases. It begs the questions: Where will the money come from? Which budget will we rob from or what tax increase is coming? 

The explanation for the proposed increase from committee leaders was that Wyoming’s Supreme Court required education to be the Legislature’s top funding priority. My answer to that is that K-12 education is already the largest segment of our ever-growing state budget. 

Where we spent $1,234 per student in 1979, we are now spending $16,381 in 2019. The Legislature has elected to spend more than the funding model suggests every year since 2001. And yet we need to spend even more? Since 1979 our K-12 education budget has grown nearly 400 percent! 

Also consider that most school district superintendents in Wyoming — we have 48 — make more than our Governor

Folks, no one seems to driving this runaway train and sadly, I don’t see any stop to it. All of this leaves me with the question: How much do we need to spend or how much is enough for our schools to be happy enough to prevent them from suing the Legislature a fourth time. 

Personally, I say bring it. 

What evidence do our schools have that they are not our top priority? Most districts have new buildings, new buses, the highest starting salaries in the region, low class sizes, top-of-the-line benefits packages and the best students in the nation to work with. I for one grow tired of the threat of a law suit. Times have changed over the last 40 years and frankly, they do not have a leg to stand on. 

Finally, I would add this: If our Supreme Court rules again that our school districts need more money, then I would challenge our justices to balance our state budget. Are roads important? Water, sewer and other infrastructure that make our communities nice to live in, are they important? How about health care? Emergency services, law enforcement? 

I could go on and on with other budgets that will continue to be robbed in the name of education. Look at the numbers. Look at what we spend. Look at what we have spent with the funding increases over the last 40 years and then tell me with a straight face that more is needed to maintain the quality of our education. And please don’t tell me that I don’t believe in education as much as you do. Or that I just don’t understand how education works. I see what goes in and what comes out, and I’m left thinking that we can do much better.

Transposition error makes it appear substitute teacher makes $216K

in Government spending/News/Education/Transparency
Transposition error makes it appear substitute teacher makes $216K
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By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

RIVERTON – In case you might’ve heard otherwise, please rest assured that a substitute teacher does not, in fact, hold the top-paying job in Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton. They’re not paying a custodian $120,000 a year, either.

But that certainly appeared to be the case if you were to visit the government spending accountability website OpenTheBooks.com Saturday morning. And it appears a transposing error is to blame.

Founded in 2011 and based out of a Chicago suburb, OpenTheBooks.com is a nonprofit dedicated to uncovering and disclosing the spending figures at every level of government, with an overall aim of providing the public accountability about where its money is spent. The nonprofit’s oversight reports on government spending have been featured by news outlets as diverse as C-SPAN, Good Morning AmericaFox News and The Wall Street Journal.

And according to FCSD 25 Personnel Manager Karen Wardner, the site does indeed show the correct figures for the employee wages paid in 2017, with Superintendent Terry L. Snyder topping the list at $212,685. But in the 2018 data, the top-earner listed is substitute teacher Terri L. Cole, with an annual wage of $216,894, with Snyder shown earning only $20,817 that same year.

“It’s definitely not accurate. I can assure you, we restrict the number of hours they (substitute teachers) work,” Wardner said in an interview Friday.

After viewing OpenTheBooks.com herself and observing the figures listed, Wardner said it appears the 2018 salary listing for Snyder was transposed with Cole’s name, possibly due to their similar first names and middle initial. 

“If you scroll down, it’s got her actual rate for 2017 at $6,665,” Wardner said.

The transposition appears to have thrown off much of the rest of OpenTheBooks’ 2018 salary list for the district. For example, Business Manager Lu Beecham – the district’s third-highest earner in 2017 at $120,000 – was switched out for a custodian in the 2018 list, so the custodian is shown making $120,450 while Beecham supposedly pulled down just $21,007.

Fortunately, Wardner said the error should be simple enough to fix once she’s able to determine whose names were transposed with whose. She said she planned to reach out to OpenTheBooks.com in the coming days to make sure the 2018 figures are updated to reflect reality.