Cheyenne’s LCSD1 New Book Policy Passes Despite Public Outcry
Last night was packed at the Laramie County School District 1 board meeting. Over 150 members of the public and stakeholders attended the meeting, many of whom sported banned books in a silent protest against the evening's hot topic - the LCSD1 new book policy.
Opponents of the new policy decried the move as a politically driven change. One opponent, Marguerite Herman, noted that the Board was "lucky" because the way forward with the new policy was "very clear." Herman, a former LCSD1 trustee, in an impassioned speech.
Herman was one of numerous bill opponents to speak at the board meeting on December 4, 2023. Herman supported the previous policy, citing it 'as a policy that gives maximum discretion to parents and family,' and added that the current solution 'can accommodate students right down to the individual family. It is affordable, it works, and it's already in place...The current opt-out book policy is principled, practical, educationally sound, and fiscally responsible. It is constitutional. It can be delivered to individual students based on individual parent and family rights and responsibilities. It is carried out con...it is in place. It is sustainable...and even better, it is supported by an overwhelming majority of the people in the district that you serve. It is popular, and it works.'
Like many opponents of the bill, Herman cited the new policy as 'unconstitutional, expensive, time-consuming, with no payoff. And it is opposed by an overwhelming majority.' Her statement echoed the over 1,500 comments submitted to the Board against the policy in the recent public comment period. Other concerns hailed the policy as flawed, ambiguous, and an endeavor doomed to face legal conflicts over First Amendment rights and an impediment against other parents' rights over their children. Comments from the public lasted over 40 minutes at the meeting. (Listen to all of the comments at the meeting by clicking here.)
However, those comments were aimed against the proposed policy presented to the public in late October of this year - but it was not that version of the policy voted on by the Board last evening.
Policy Amendments & Changes in the New Book Ban
The public comment period for a new library book policy in LCSD1 began in late October of this year. As previously noted, over 1500 comments were received - over 75% of which were against the changes to the existing policy.
However, it was not the publically reviewed policy the LCSD1 board voted on last night. Instead, the Board voted on the policy with amendments and changes added since the public comment - there was no public comment period given on the latest changes, resulting in an outcry on social media by groups such as LCSD1 in Context.
The new policy will allow parents to select at registration or throughout the school year what types of books students can have access to at the Jr. High and High School level, based on four levels:
- No Access to Materials Containing Sexually Explicit Content
- Parent/Guardian Limited Access
- Open Access
- No Access
- Page 2, Line 13: Inserted the phrase 'to the best of the teacher's ability' to the line with the intent to 'take the pressure' off the educator's shoulders.
- Page 3, Lines 9-12; Page 6, Lines 20 and 21: Delete the lines and content regarding parental 'nominated' material. Thus, no content will be removed unless it has been reviewed and identified by the Board as sexually explicit. A list of challenged/nominated books will be available for parents to review should they wish to opt out of any books pending review by the Board.
- Page 6, Line 2: Protected 'Materials that are historical materials or materials used in the district-approved curriculum' from being designated as sexually explicit content.
- Page 6, Line 22; 7 lines 2-3: Separates Jr. High and Elementary School standards. Jr. High libraries will be held to High School standards. In the previous rendition of the policy, Jr. High libraries were restricted from High School materials.
Demand for Another 45-Day Public Comment Period Rises
In light of the significant changes made to the newly passed book policy before its passage, activist groups and public opponents of the policy argue that a new public comment period should have occurred before the passage of the policy.
Contesting the New Policy
In a strongly worded speech, Trustee Hinkle expressed concern that the new policy was based on political ideology, not to address 'an actual problem.' She noted that applying definitions of explicit content will be 'difficult.'
'This is bad policy because it undermines the training and education of librarians and teachers. This policy tells our teachers and our librarians that this Board and some people in our community do not trust them.' Hinkle added concern that many educators and teachers will decide not to leave the district. She added the risk of legal challenges to the policy as noted by legal groups who reviewed the policy.
READ MORE: LCSD1 Book Ban Battle: Public Comment Majority Opposes New Policy
Such legal arguments, as referenced by Hinkle, could bring the policy into the arena of the courtroom - the threat of lawsuits and legal agreements has been raised since the public comment period.
In Support of the New Policy
In support of the policy, Clerk Alicia Smith pointed out that films and movies have ratings, drawing parallels to the new policy system. 'Our own district has rules regarding certain kinds of content on our district's electronic devices.' she said.
Vice Chairperson Klaasen contested Hinkle's claims of political ideology. 'This is what this policy does. First...the intention behind the proposal is to address the difficulty parents and guardians face in trying to use the current opt-out system to identify and avoid materials with sexually explicit content. We're trying to improve the process and make it easier for parents to use the opt-out system. Second, there's nothing in the policy as it goes for a final vote that will remove any books or prevent students from reading anything in our secondary libraries that their parent approves.' Klassen added that terming the policy a 'ban' is 'unfair.'
'With this policy in place, each parent and guardian will be able to easily decide for themselves at registration what kind of access to sexually explicit content they want their student to have, and they can modify their choice at any time during the school year.'
Klassen and supporters believe the new policy empowers parents on an individual level and addresses a need in the school district. 'This proposal is not nor has it ever been about questioning the professionalism of any staff in our district...it's disheartening because it's not true.'
'Parents will choose. Not me. Not this Board or anyone else in our district.' said Klassen in an emotional speech before the final vote.
The Final Vote
Despite over 1500 public comments vehemently against the new policy and the numerous protestors, speeches, and public debate that raged around the new policy, the movement passed 4-2 at the meeting.