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Wyoming Freedom Caucus continues fight for parental rights

CHEYENNE - The Wyoming Freedom Caucus continues to advocate for protection of parental rights in the wake of pending litigation.

Five state representatives who are members of the caucus hosted a virtual town hall meeting Monday night to discuss legislation designed to prevent violations of parental rights and actions for residents to take in preparation for the next session.

"The attack on the family is only beginning. We're not going to see it let up," said state Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, vice chair of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. "They want to attack our marriages, they want to attack our children, they want to attack our unborn babies, they want to take out the nucleus of the family, and if they can do that, they can take out our nation. So, just remember, they're not going to relent, so we can't either."

Haroldson said there were two fronts: school boards and legislation.

He encouraged residents to be actively involved in their local school boards and be a part of the decision-making process.

He added that the same approach needed to be taken with the Legislature. Residents need to have personal conversations with legislators, contact them via email and testify in committee meetings on legislation to protect parents.

One of the main bills they hope to see gain traction failed to be introduced in the House of Representatives this past session. Senate File 117, also called the "Parental rights in education" bill, passed the Senate, but House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, didn't let it out of his drawer.

The legislation mirrors a bill passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last March, which has been dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by opponents.

SF 117 would have restricted public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with K-3 students, and required notifying parents or guardians of services or changes relating to their student's "mental, emotional or physical health or wellbeing."

Freedom Caucus members said they hope to see policies like this implemented in school districts, and they aren't alone.

The Wyoming Republican Party adopted a resolution Saturday with language similar to the bill and has pushed local county parties to adopt resolutions urging their school districts to implement policies outlined in SF 117, according to reports by the Casper Star Tribune.

"In Park County, the GOP passed a resolution that basically duplicated Senate File 117 and expanded it, actually, from kindergarten through 12th grade with the same mission as the bill," Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, said at the town hall. "And so that resolution was sent to local school boards, encouraging them to implement this policy that currently does not exist."

She continued, "It was great to see the groundswell on this issue, because there's definitely support for it throughout the state. The prevalence of transgender students in Wyoming schools is there. And never has there been a more important time for parents to be informed as to what's going on with the health and wellness of their own children."

When it came to SF 117 not being passed, freshman Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, explained the reasoning from leadership and her attempt to pull it from the speaker's drawer. She said they were told "this kind of thing was not happening in Wyoming, and here it is happening in Wyoming."

The lawmaker brought attention to a case filed in federal district court against Sweetwater County School District 1 that she believes could have been mitigated by the Wyoming Legislature, and it was discussed by members throughout the town hall.

Ashley and Sean Wiley are suing SCSD1, school board members and administrators for implementing a protocol that allegedly "deliberately conceals from Plaintiffs critical information regarding their children's mental and well-being." In the complaint filed at the end of April, they specified it had to do with a "discordant gender identity and request to be affirmed in that identity through the use of alternative names, pronouns and other measures, without the knowledge and consent - and even over the objection of - their parents."

They said the defendants "purposefully and intentionally mislead and deceive parents by referring to their child by his or her legal name and biologically accurate pronouns when communicating with parents, but using the child's assumed name and pronouns at all other times, unless the child consented to informing his or her parents.

"Defendants' actions are particularly egregious with regard to Mrs. Wiley's daughter, A.S., whom Defendants know or should know is a sexual trauma survivor diagnosed with ADHD and PTSD, for whom affirming a discordant gender identity is antithetical to her health and wellbeing," according to the complaint. "Yet, despite this known harm to A.S. (they) continue to implement the Guidance."

Members of the Freedom Caucus criticized the actions of the school district, as well, and said it violated protections already in place in Wyoming law. But they said that it most definitely wouldn't have been allowed under SF 117.

Ward pointed to the school district's policy and argued that, in some cases, it violated a teacher's First Amendment rights.

"It says calling a person by their preferred name and pronoun shows respect and contributes to the district's commitment to providing a safe and nondiscriminatory educational environment, except for discriminating against the parents," she said. "And then it says, 'accordingly, staff must use a student's preferred or chosen name or pronoun in verbal written and electronic communications.' I mean, that just tramples on the First Amendment rights of teachers.

"What if I, as a teacher, object to calling someone by the wrong pronoun because I live in reality?"

Discussion among Freedom Caucus members on the lawsuit continued in the town hall, but the emphasis was on the legislation needed to pass and even run for office.

Haroldson said he would always support parents who are interested in taking the next step in politics or at the polls.

"We should be also making sure that they know that we see them, we see the decisions they're making," he said. "And we'll remember those the next time that we're voting."

This story was published on May 10, 2023.

 
 
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