Degenfelder outlines plan for library book limitations
CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s top education official announced a policy recommendation intended to address concerns around the state about “graphic, sexually arousing material” that she said “has no place in school.”
Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder unveiled a statewide policy recommendation from the state Department of Education concerning library book access at a press conference Wednesday. The policy is intended to advise school districts on the subject of sexually explicit library materials, while still leaving ultimate control of policy decisions to individual districts.
“This guidance is meant to serve as a resource for Wyoming school districts, encouraging discussion and adoption of a policy around library materials,” she said. “All school districts, no matter their size, should have the tools to create the best policy that meets the needs of their community.”
Degenfelder said that she first caught wind of the issue when campaigning last year and was initially skeptical of the concerns brought to her attention.
“When I campaigned across every corner of the state last year, there were few issues that I heard more about than concerns about inappropriate course material and books in schools,” she said. “I must admit that, when I first heard about complaints of these graphic, sexually explicit materials in books in our schools, I was skeptical. But I promised Wyoming that I would investigate and address the issue. I did exactly that. And, unfortunately, the concerns I’ve heard as I traveled the state were well-founded.
“I’ve now seen material, for my own eyes, in different areas of the state — books currently available in school libraries to minors under the age of sexual consent and paid for by taxpayer dollars — that include graphic depictions of sexually explicit acts.”
Talk about it
Linda Finnerty, the WDE’s chief communications officer, provided the Wyoming Tribune Eagle with excerpts from a book called “Let’s Talk About It,” a book intended to teach sexual behaviors to teenagers. The book was cited multiple times during the press conference as one that raised concerns with stakeholders in the state.
Taylor Jacobs, a mother from Lander who worked with Degenfelder on the policy, mentioned that book by name, saying that she was disappointed to find that her local high school library “promoted pornography” by carrying books like “Let’s Talk About It.”
“Not only was it in my school, it was placed on a display table where students as young as 14 could have access to it,” she said. “This book provided no data or facts, but was simply an opinion piece labeled as sex education resource. Sexually explicit material in schools was an issue I didn’t think I would have infiltrated my small town, and yet it did. More shocking still was the fight to prevent the book from being ‘banned’ from our high school. ... (It) has since been removed from our high school, thanks to a policy similar to those recommended today.”
The 13-page policy from the WDE broke down suggested policies into five sections: definitions, material selection process, prohibited content provision, opt-in and opt-out processes and the reconsideration process.
Unlike a draft policy proposed by Laramie County School District 1, the state’s suggestions came with recommendations for the procurement of new library books.
When asked about criticism that similar policies have gotten from librarians and educators, Degenfelder said that policies like the WDE’s would increase transparency and positively impact librarian retention by removing guesswork from their jobs.
The WDE’s policy guidance came in the midst of LCSD1’s public comment period over its controversial library book draft policy. The draft will be voted on by the LCSD1 Board of Trustees in December.
One of the local board’s most vocal supporters of its draft policy, vice chair Christy Klaassen, worked with the WDE’s statewide cabinet to draft the policy recommendation released Wednesday. Language proposed by Klaassen for defining sexually explicit content in the district was used as an example in the statewide policy.
“The guidance was created by a qualified group of Wyoming stakeholders,” Degenfelder read aloud from a letter attached to the proposed policy, “including librarians, teachers, parents, administrators, district and state school board members and business leaders. I believe all policymaking should be based on the voices of the people, not politicians working in silos.”
Some attendees at Wednesday’s press conference wore political clothing, like Moms for Liberty or President Donald Trump T-shirts.
Degenfelder summarized her feelings on the issue by saying that it was a matter of what content was funded by taxpayers, causing many in the audience to clap in support. She added that schools must be respectful of the “covenant” between parents and districts.
“Schools are also the one place where parents cede their responsibility of their kids to the government, and typically with no choice in where to send them,” Degenfelder said. “Our schools must respect the covenant that relationship implies, and not violate the values or contradict the reasonable standards that many parents are trying to instill at home. If schools stay in their lane, focus on fundamentals, and produce students with skills and knowledge to succeed into adulthood, then it will be a lot easier for us to convince communities to approve school budgets, teacher pay increases and recruit great teachers to the classroom.”
Marcie Kindred, a board member of the Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom, attended the event. She was critical of the state’s proposed policy and said it puts a strain on educators.
“This entire effort, it’s taken an obscene amount of time and resources from professionals, librarians and administrators, and it’s all to address this made-up issue,” she told the WTE. “It’s this issue created by a very small, very loud group across the state and nationwide. They’re the ones in our state that are leaning into this national hysteria that, suddenly, our public school system is in the business of peddling pornographic materials to our children. That’s just blatantly untrue.
“Our educators are trained professionals, and teachers and librarians are experts in assessing age appropriateness for education and reading materials.”
One positive aspect Kindred mentioned was that educators and librarians were consulted and served on Degenfelder’s cabinet. She said she hoped that their influence would be able to guide the attention of state officials off of the issue and onto other subjects.
“I was grateful to see them represented, and I’m grateful for their efforts and their time on it,” Kindred continued. “I feel their skills and expertise could maybe be better utilized elsewhere, but I’m hoping — and this is the eternal optimist in me — that with their input, maybe it’ll help provide professionals in this state with a roadmap on how to deal with the onslaught of these complaints.”
Overall, Kindred said the policy was a step in the wrong direction for sex education and literacy in the state.
“I think sex education in America is sorely lacking already,” she said. “It’s already so under-taught. This is yet another step backward instead of forward. It’s just going to make it more difficult to have these very important conversations with the appropriate age groups.”
The policy fell into a broader “strategic plan” by WDE that stretches from 2023 to 2027, outlining goals the department has to reform education in the state. Among other aspects, like raising test scores and workforce development, the department stated that one of its goals was to “develop a public commitment to ensuring divisive and inappropriate concepts like Critical Race Theory are not being taught.”