By Cassia Catterall
Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Campbell County school officials look into complaints of sexual images in Wright art class


January 11, 2024

GILLETTE — The concerns of a number of Wright parents about an art lesson taught in September have spurred Campbell County School District officials to look into what happened inside a Cottonwood Elementary School classroom.

On Tuesday, a group of Wright parents and residents came to Gillette to ask school board members to review the curriculum and an elementary school teacher, who they said showed inappropriate images to children in her fourth-grade art class.

About 25 Wright residents traveled the 80-mile round trip in a show of support, using the public comment period of the school board's regular meeting to voice disapproval about images.

Parents said the questionable images came from artist Keith Haring, a pop artist who became well known in the 1980s. Haring’s artwork is known for its graffiti-like style and movement.

Kirby Eisenhauer, Campbell County School District deputy superintendent, said he and other officials are looking into the concerns, which were first voiced to administration shortly before Christmas break.

“As far as the process goes, it’s putting together the facts of what happened,” he said. “It was some time ago so it’s not as easy as if it happened last week. We gather the facts and try to find the truth and make a decision based on what’s discovered.”

Parent concerns

At the meeting, about 10 residents took time to speak to school board trustees. Audience members gave a round of applause to each person who commented about the situation.

Some parents Tuesday said they’d already pulled their children out of the art class, an option Anne Ochs, school board chair, said was given by administration as an option for those with “immediate concerns.”

Some parents added that if nothing was done, they would take their student out of Cottonwood permanently.

“I’ve already pulled my kids out of that class,” Jason Eisenbraun said. “If something is not done about it, we will attend elsewhere next year.”

Toni Haddenham circled the meeting room to show each board member and administrator seven photos she had pulled up on her phone, six of which had cartoon renderings of male genitals and one of a nude man. Haddenham claimed the seven photos were shown to her children in school.

“If my kid had to see this, so do you guys,” she said.

The statement was met with an “amen” and a round of applause from the group gathered.

Parents had conflicting accounts of how many photos were shown in the classroom and to what extent.

Holly Ricketts, Cottonwood art teacher, did not respond to requests for comment clarifying what may have been shown in the classroom.

Parents said they took issue with Ricketts encouraging students to look up the artist, which opened the possibility of their children seeing more graphic images. Becky Edwards told trustees that at first she took issue with the teacher but later found the artist had been in the district’s curriculum for years.

She said she felt “blindsided” because she never felt that she would need to deal with describing what a sexual image was to her fourth grade child. She and Jennifer Parkhurst asked for some resolution to the situation and a review of curriculum.

After public comment was over, Ochs told the parents gathered that the investigation into what happened takes some time.

"We will follow policy and we will follow state and federal guidelines as far as the investigation," she said. "We want to make sure this is done correctly and not come back and say it was done as a knee-jerk reaction."

Parkhurst said she understood administrators have policy and procedure to follow but hoped to hear back soon about what decisions administrators make to address parent concerns.

“It sounds like the board was understanding to our situation,” she said after the meeting. “I understand they have to go through the whole protocol and process and I know it doesn’t feel like anything is being done immediately. We want immediate (action) but I do feel like they’ve got a good handle on it and a good direction. I do trust them to make the right decision.”

This story was published on January 12, 2024.


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