Parents push back against school mask mandate, books
CHEYENNE — With the support of a Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees member’s husband, parents continued to make their voices heard Monday regarding universal masking policies and the district’s reading materials.
Darin Smith – husband of LCSD1 Trustee Alicia Smith, and a past Republican candidate for Congress – posted on Facebook last Friday a call for community members to attend district school board meetings. He shared concerns of alleged censorship by school officials, demanded reconsideration of the “ill-informed decision” to enact a mask mandate and gave directions to parents on how to sign up to speak during the public comment section.
“The battle for the soul of America is raging not just in D.C., but right here in the heartland, in our own Laramie County School District 1,” he stated online. “There are two huge reasons every conservative who cares about our kids should show up at [the] LCSD1 meeting on Monday, Dec. 6.”
Smith said this post was made independent from his wife’s position on the board, and opinions were his own. Alicia Smith did not comment on the post, but most parents who attended Monday’s meeting shared his sentiments.
This follows the erasure of a portion of LCSD1 parent Shannon Ashby’s testimony from the YouTube recording of the previous school board meeting. The mother came forward to give a verbatim reading of one of the books within the district’s middle school and high school libraries, which contained sexual and explicit language.
LCSD1 Superintendent Margaret Crespo apologized for Ashby’s breach of board meeting guidelines, and the possible exposure of inappropriate content to K-12 students listening. She said there is a process to address the content of texts, and it must be followed.
Smith and other parents expressed frustration that Crespo apologized for the parent’s testimony, but not for the book being available in school libraries.
“I won’t even read it when I’m teaching my college students,” testified Mark Moody. “I just want to say that I think it’s disgraceful that we are apologizing for what a parent said, yet that it is the same content in the book.”
This was not the only issue brought to the public’s attention in Darin Smith’s post. Alicia Smith asked the board a few weeks ago to consider reevaluating the mask mandate in LCSD1, and Darin wants a work session, or an agenda item, to be scheduled on the topic.
“The child-masking advocates have dominated the debate based on shaky information,” he stated in his Facebook post. “We need to speak up well, and now, or left-leaning members of the board keep our kids masked up until who-knows-when.”
Although no parent stated their political affiliation when commenting on issues Monday night, Darin Smith and many others came forward, united in their determination to speak against the administration’s recent decisions. Only one member of the public said they were in favor of masks during more than an hour of testimony.
Crespo reminded attendees that district officials were still receiving emails and calls from the other side of the argument, regardless of whether they came to the meetings.
But before parents took part in public comment, several board members made their positions clear about mature reading content in Cheyenne.
Trustees Christy Klaassen, Tim Bolin and Alicia Smith questioned who should have access and whether books with higher maturity requirements should be available without a parent’s permission. Currently, parents may opt out of their student receiving certain materials, but all three suggested the possibility of switching the process. The base curriculum and access would not include books seen as too mature, and parents would instead have to opt in to this kind of content.
“It sounds like a great thing to do,” said Bolin.
After discussions were held between board members, time was allotted to hear from the community and it included largely negative testimony. Accusations of censorship, disputes of COVID-19 data in the county driving the mask mandate, threats to call the Wyoming Department of Family Services and fights against immoral teaching materials were heard.
“Some attempted to claim that the books are here for people in unique situations, as in using the analogy, and I’ve heard it over and over in this district that we’re here to serve all,” said Pastor Nathan Winters. “The problem with that idea is, what we’ve seen in education is that we’ve made the outlier normative. And in doing so, it sends the message to every child that the exception rules, and that is what is occurring here.”
Trustee and Board Chair Rose Ann Million Rinne demanded order be restored a number of times, even as members of the public cheered and interrupted throughout testimonies.
“I don’t want to have to shut this meeting down,” said Rinne.
Individuals testifying finished their remarks without an abrupt ending, and the board went into executive session.
But some parents said they are no longer interested in patience or trying to be heard through the board meetings. One of those was Jason Hoover, who previously sent a letter to LCSD1 school officials threatening legal action against the mask mandate.
Hoover and several other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against district leaders, teachers and county health officials on Friday afternoon. His lawyer, Cassie Craven, is also seeking a preliminary injunction for counts of negligence.
The local father is seeking damages of a minimum $50,000 for his child, with the rest of the plaintiffs requesting a declaratory judgment, which is a determination to confirm if the law has been violated. If there is injunctive relief, that may mean an end to the district-wide mask mandate.
Hoover said decisions regarding children’s safety and needs have somehow been based upon other people’s beliefs. He does not believe it should be the responsibility of students to carry those out.
“It’s very sad that the people have balanced their perceived needs on the backs of our children, and that’s simply wrong,” he said.