Local interest groups react to state's book policy guidance
November 9, 2023
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — In the week since Wyoming’s top education official unveiled statewide guidance for addressing sexual content in school library books, multiple local interest groups have shared their thoughts about the policy recommendations.
While some groups criticized the guidance and others supported certain aspects of it, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that the guidance has “received a lot of positive feedback.”
The guidance issued by her office on Nov. 1 recommends five steps for school districts to follow when drafting library book policies. The 13-page policy suggests definitions, material selection, prohibited content provisions, opt-in and opt-out processes, and a reconsideration process.
At a news conference last week, Degenfelder and representatives from the Wyoming Department of Education said that the policy was aimed at removing all sexually explicit materials from schools, pushing back on criticism that the effort was an attempt to target members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Wyoming Library Association (WLA) expressed measured support for some aspects of the WDE’s suggested policy, while criticizing other aspects of it in a news release sent out Monday.
“WLA agrees that any policies addressing materials in school libraries should be uniformly applied to all sexual orientations and not be used as a tool to discriminate,” the association wrote.
“I appreciated their willingness to publicly agree with some aspects of the guidance,” Degenfelder responded to the WTE in an email Tuesday.
However, the WLA criticized the inclusion of an example from Laramie County School District 1’s draft policy in the statewide guidance.
“WLA does not recommend modeling work on school district policy that is still in a public comment period,” representatives for the association said in the release. “When using other policies as a reference for future policies and/or guidelines, WLA recommends restricting the use to policies that have completed the public comment period and that have been adopted and implemented.”
The WLA suggested that districts adopt an opt-out policy — like the one currently in LCSD1 — which it said sufficiently allows for parent input.
“School librarians are professional selectors, trained to assume the responsibility of curating age-relevant collections — including credible information about human development and sexual education,” the release continued.
“These educators are trained to recognize individual family needs and to provide an avenue for parents to guide their own children in selecting reading materials that align with their own family’s values.”
When asked how districts should approach teaching sex education while avoiding some of the books cited by WDE, like the teen-oriented sex education graphic novel “Let’s Talk About It,” Degenfelder said the guidance was meant specifically for “arousing” material.
“These efforts have nothing to do with censorship or banning books,” she told the WTE.
“It also has nothing to do with prohibiting sex education. Any argument to the contrary is simply inaccurate.
“Sexually explicit and arousing material demonstrating erotic behavior is hardly sex education.”
When asked about how districts can agree on a definition of “sexually explicit,” she said that the process should be done by districts in a “public process, along with their attorney.”
She also pointed to examples in the recommendation released last week, like the one from the LCSD1 draft.
Libby Skarin, deputy executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, maintained that the suggestions from the WDE amounted to censorship in a response to the guidance sent to the WTE last week.
“No one is going to agree on the merits of every book on a library’s shelf,” she wrote.
“Some books will make you uncomfortable. Some books will make you question what you know. ... There are some books you will think children shouldn’t read and some books that you hope everyone will read. But the ACLU of Wyoming is steadfast in our belief that we do not get to decide what others read — and neither should our elected officials.”
She also criticized the idea of defining “sexually explicit,” a process she called “hopelessly vague and subjective.”
“The ACLU of Wyoming opposes any efforts to censor books that contain ‘sexually explicit content’ or discuss ‘controversial issues’ like race, gender or sexual orientation,” Skarin’s statement continued. “... Wyoming communities do not need a one-size-fits-all model policy handed down from the state. Each of us gets to choose what books we read and what information we access — but we don’t get to choose for other people or other people’s kids.”
Wyoming Education Association President Grady Hutcherson also issued a brief statement on the day after Degenfelder announced the guidance last week. He called for stakeholders to work together, respectfully, toward the common goal of providing children high-quality education.
“As communities around Wyoming grapple with this emotionally and politically charged issue of censoring the books available to students in school libraries,” he said in a news release. “I urge us all to remember: Our librarians and educators are professionals who want what’s best for students.”
When asked if the WDE would issue more guidance on the issue going forward, Degenfelder told the WTE that her agency plans to continue issuing resources and guidance to school districts.
“The WDE is in the business of providing resources and guidance to school districts, no matter the subject, and we will continue to do so,” she said.
This story was published on November 8, 2023.