By Jeannette Boner
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON —The ACLU of Wyoming and the Wyoming Education Association have come out against state Sen. Dan Dockstader’s bill addressing parents’ rights in school.
But Dockstader, an Afton Republican who also represents southern Teton County, told the Jackson Hole Daily that the bill is misunderstood.
SF0117 was introduced this week and moved to the Education Committee, which will take public comment on it this morning, starting at 8, and then vote on it.
The bill requires school districts to notify parents “in critical decisions involving students” while “prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity as specified and specifying training requirements for school districts,” among other proposed rules.
The bill would also bar instruction by teachers or “any other person” about sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade.
“I’m simply saying that the parents have rights,” Dockstader said of the bill. “Folks are trying to make it more than what it is.”
Dockstader said his concerns are about children’s health and welfare, including gender identity concepts and sexual orientation issues, coming up in a school setting. Dockstader could not name a specific instance that constituents came to him with concerns about their parental rights in Wyoming schools. He said no special interest group or parent has influenced his desire to draft the bill. He said he got the idea for the bill from watching the national conversation about parents rights when it comes to students in school.
The ACLU of Wyoming issued a blistering rebuke on Wednesday, saying the bill closely mirrors Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Critics have said that law, which was signed into law last year and is being challenged in federal court, would silence students from speaking about their LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit family members, friends and neighbors and could create costly new liabilities for school districts.
“This is a dangerous bill that wrongfully censors students’ and teachers’ right to free speech,” Antonio Serrano, ACLU of Wyoming advocacy director, said in a news release regarding Dockstader’s bill. “It is always appropriate for kids to talk about themselves, their experiences and their families. These are not taboo subjects, but banning them makes them seem so.”
“The government should never be in the business of passing censorship bills, especially those that harm our kids,” Serrano continued. “Children should not have to hide their identities in a place where they should feel safe to be themselves: Wyoming schools.”
The education association agreed.
“This bill opens the door for the State Board of Education to be asked to establish guidelines that step on constitutional rights and leave too many questions unanswered,” Wyoming Education Association President Grady Hutcherson told the Casper Star-Tribune this week. “Under this legislation, is it against the law for a teacher to assign a book that includes an LGBTQ+ character? Can a teacher assign a class speech asking students to talk about their families?
“What if a student’s parents are LGBTQ+? K-12 public school teachers and students enjoy certain basic rights to teach, learn and speak without government retaliation or censorship. This bill threatens those rights.”