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State GOP urges districts to adopt 'parental rights' policies

CASPER — The Wyoming Republican Party is asking local school districts to adopt policies that align with Senate File 117 — a bill proposed during the session this year that’s similar to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, and which would have barred classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in certain grades.

Two county parties — Park and Sheridan counties — passed resolutions in April and March, respectively, urging their local districts to adopt policies that align with Senate File 117.

The state GOP central committee subsequently adopted a state resolution in a voice vote on Saturday. The resolution doesn’t have clout and only expresses the desired direction of the party.

Senate File 117, which didn’t survive the Legislature, would have barred classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate...”

It would have also required school personnel to report changes in students’ well-being or use of services to parents and guardians under most circumstances, and to encourage students to discuss issues related to their well-being with their parents and guardians.

Proponents of the bill argued that it was meant to protect students and empower parents to be involved with their child’s well being, while opponents said it would threaten the rights in particular of LGBTQ students and families and that the legislation wouldn’t address any existing problem in Wyoming schools.

Senate File 117 cleared the Senate in an 18- 12 vote in January. But Speaker of the House Albert Sommers, a Pinedale Republican, chose to withhold the bill from debate in the lower chamber, and it ultimately died without a vote on the floor after failing to reach a cutoff date.

Given that there are more bills than there is time to consider and vote on each and every one of them, the speaker of the House has to decide which bills to withhold and which will be allowed to move forward.

Consequently, it’s common for bills to meet their end in the speaker’s drawer (the Senate president has the same power.) Those decisions can be contentious.

During the session, Sommers came under fire from national figures for holding Senate File 117 in his drawer.

State Freedom Caucus Network President Andrew Roth posted a photo of Sommers on Twitter and highlighted three bills — one of them Senate File 117 — that had stalled in the House.

The State Freedom Caucus Network — a Washington, D.C.-based organization that aims to establish state freedom caucuses across the country — officially partnered with the hard-line conservative Wyoming Freedom Caucus in early January.

Wyoming’s Rep. Harriet Hageman retweeted Roth’s post and said that the bills were “about protecting our children.”

“In Congress, I’m fighting for these very issues. I hope the Wyoming legislature will do the same,” she wrote.

Sheridan County GOP Chairman Bryan Miller said that “people were angry” because Sommers didn’t pull the bill out of his drawer.

“The bottom line is this: If we decide not to do anything here, that’s not going to be the end of this,” Miller said. “That is the point, the primary point, of bringing this out. This is something that needs to be done at the local level if the Legislature is not going to do anything.”

The resolution comes amid a lawsuit filed by two parents against Sweetwater County School District No. 1 that alleges the district violated their rights by concealing information about their child’s gender identity.

The parents — Ashley and Sean Willey — argue that Sweetwater County School District No. 1 was engaging in “social transitioning” by using the child’s preferred pronouns.

They also assert that the school district’s use of the child’s gender identity violated their religious beliefs, which don’t recognize transgender people.

The Willeys aim to stop Sweetwater County School District No. 1 from using their child’s preferred pronouns. They also seek monetary damages for emotional distress and psychological harm to the child and the family.