Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

Douglas community members voice concern over hiring teacher in gender transition

DOUGLAS — The hiring practices of the Converse County School District No. 1 board and its selection of a person in gender transition to teach middle school students drew fire during the board’s last meeting.

CCSD#1 Superintendent Paige Fenton Hughes confirmed that the district recently hired quite a few new teachers, including a new Douglas Middle School band teacher. The teacher’s name has not been released.

“As required by law, the applicants selected for these positions were the best applicants. We don’t inquire into sexual orientation. We are required by law to hire the best applicant without regard to gender,” Hughes said in a statement from the school district.

During a school board meeting on June 13, two individuals stood up to speak publicly regarding their feelings on the matter.

First, Jason Miller spoke on the issue involving the public’s right to know the members of the district’s teacher hiring committee.

“It’s my understanding that nobody in here knows who’s on the hiring committee, and I think that process needs to be changed,” he said. “None of us in this room know who’s hired to teach our kids. I think that’s a poor process. I would like to know . . . who it starts with and stops with.”

This problem of keeping the hiring committee members' names secret, according to Miller, has been consistent throughout the community.

Miller said he believes there is not an issue with the hiring committee (in itself) as it lightens the load for the school board.

However, he said, “I want to know who’s on the committee and, then, does the committee report to another person, and that person reports it to you (the school board)? I don’t know why it’s top secret . . . I guess what I’m saying . . . why can’t we (know)? Do you guys even know? Why can’t we all know who hires our teachers for our kids?”

Jon Cozzens stood up to speak next, “to call attention to the values and conservative nature of the community,” he said.

“To the school board, faculty and parents . . it has come to my attention that our district has hired an individual that is currently in gender transition. As current laws prohibit that the district confirm or deny this, I will just add my opinion of a concerned citizen of our community,” Cozzens said.

“First off the individual in gender . . . in gender transition . . . has every right to do as they choose. (Just) as you and I do. But as we all know our choices always have consequences.

“It is my feeling and opinion that our community as a whole here in Douglas has a set of morals and values of a conservative nature,” Cozzens said. “This meaning that we have a belief in God and as such, he’s endowed us with responsibilities, morals and standards that we adhere to. These standards and morals are contradictory . . . contradictory to gender transition.”

Cozzens said it is his opinion that the school district should adhere to the moral standards of members of the community.

“When hiring individuals, yes, this person has the right to do as they wish. But one consequence is that he or she should not teach the children of our community in which we live because it is contradictory to the standards of our community,” he said.

“In the Douglas community I’ve talked with several individuals who appear the same as I do (sic). To put it bluntly and clearly, we do not want an individual in gender transition teaching our children; not because we dislike or hate the individual, but because the individual sets an example not proper as to the standards of our community,” Cozzens stated.

“I cannot in good conscience condone this and still teach my children to follow my conservative beliefs or the conservative beliefs of our community,” he added. “I, for one, voice my opposition to the hiring, or future hiring of any individual that does not follow the same standards of our community, both publicly and privately.”

In response to the public comments made during Tuesday’s session, School Board Chairman and CCSD#1 Health Director Tom Holt said the school board does want to hear community voices, and that is why there’s always an opportunity for the public to speak, as long as they follow the guidelines.

“Many of those comments that you have said, we’ve taken note of it . . . and we will respond to them, so thank you,” Holt said.

In a letter to the editor in this week’s Douglas Budget, David Harned supported the board’s selection of the new band teacher.

“We are a community of conservative values and some people say that a teacher going through gender reassignment is not in line with those values,” he wrote. “I disagree. This is the 21st century in the equality state. Our values should be questioned and defined by our morality, but others also have the same duty and see another human being as no better or worse than themselves.

“If the decision for gender reassignment bothers you, I urge you to research the subject and what bearing it has on the individual professionally,” he said.

This story was published on June 21, 2023.