Fremont County school district books policy out; new drafts debated

By Sarah Elmquist Squires, Lander Journal, Via Wyoming News Exchange

LANDER — Fremont County School District #1 leaders soundly rejected a proposed policy that would update the district’s approach to how complaints about library and other instructional materials would be handled. Instead, two new suggested policies are now on the table for debate, crafted by board member Aileen Brew and Scott Jensen, and expected to be aired for a first reading next month. 


Brew explained that her draft policy attempts to emphasize the professional work and expertise of library staff in selecting suitable materials, along with the students’ rights to access them. 


Jensen noted his draft aims to more clearly cover all student learning materials, not just library books. 


“I want to change the tenor of our policy,” he said. “[The current policy] seems to me to be very anti-input from parents … We should be encouraging that; we should be welcoming that.” 


Jensen pointed to a book about sexuality that board member Taylor Jacob had objected to after finding it on the shelves of Lander Valley High School. 


“There are resources in our schools that shouldn’t be here,” he noted, adding that it has nothing to do with banning books. 


“It’s not enough to just do the right thing,” Jensen added, saying that the district needed to increase transparency to build trust among families. 


When a parental complaint is made about instructional materials, he said, it shouldn’t be done in a vacuum – instead, the deliberations and decision should be published on the district’s website. 


Jensen’s draft would have a complaint first aired with the superintendent’s designee, such as a building principal, and if the complaint is not resolved at that level, it would go back to the superintendent, and ultimately could go before the school board for consideration. 


The material would be removed from circulation at the schools until a final determination is made, and the board would have the option of appointing a committee to study the complaint and related book or material. 


Brew’s draft policy more closely aligns with the district’s current complaint process and the proposed updates that were voted down at the meeting. It also includes a first attempt to resolve a complaint with the teacher, librarian, and/or building principal, and if an agreement is not reached, the complaint would ultimately go before a committee that includes the chairperson of the curriculum coordinating council, a parent/community member, an administrator, a language arts or reading specialist and a library media specialist. 


Brew said she felt the committee approach is best.


“I think it’s important that we have a wide range of people, and educators and administrators, parents, potentially students helping us scrutinize and make those decisions,” she explained. “In addition, I believe that all of these materials, when they are being challenged, really need to stay in circulation. We need to live our First Amendment rules and maintain the integrity of our library collections while there are people discussing things that they do not agree with. It’s important to remember that a parent can guide the reading of their child … but they have to afford every other parent the right to do the same.” 


Community member Debra East spoke during the public portion of the meeting, and said as a lesbian and Lander resident for 45 years, she’s faced a wide variety of treatment from the community. 


“I do want to say that it’s really important that we do recognize that there are multiple kinds of parents and multiple kinds of students in our schools,” she said. 


“I think we’re all quite strong enough to take on controversial issues,” she explained, but added that Lander isn’t very good at controversial skill processing. “We’re not going to come out of controversy by not exercising that muscle … I want to make sure that we welcome all students and that they all feel safe in our schools. Right now, LGBTQIA+ students, students of other races or cognitive abilities, they don’t always feel safe in every situation, and we can all work to better that.”


Lander parent Jennifer Butler advised the board that she agreed with Jensen’s draft policy suggestion that contested materials be removed from the shelves while being reviewed. When something is a hot topic, it garners attention and exposure risk for students becomes greater, she explained.


This story was published on May 27, 2023.


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