Community shows support for parents suing SCSD1

ROCK SPRINGS — Sweetwater County residents attended Monday’s Sweetwater County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees meeting and spoke out in support of Sean and Ashley Willey, the couple suing the school district for concealing information regarding the social transition of their child.

As the meeting got started and the central administration building began to fill up with people, board of trustees chairman Carol Jelaco made a statement regarding the lawsuit, since it has been a hot topic around the state and even the national media.

“We are preparing a response to that lawsuit and it will be filed with the court. We have no intention of attempting to try this suit in the court of public opinion,” said Jelaco, adding that the school board will be guided by the mission to have the students be its top priority.

“We also follow the law. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has made clear that it will enforce Title IX’s prohibition on the basis of sex to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on gender identity.”

Jelaco also said that school board members must “be careful when commenting about any active litigation”and “protect the privacy of those involved, especially our students.”

During the communications and correspondence portion of Monday’s meeting, locals approached the podium to express how they felt about the current lawsuit.

Rock Springs resident James Graham spoke about parent involvement.

“When important stuff comes out, you don’t tell the parents and that’s not right,”he said.“Parents are the ones that pay taxes.They’re the ones that vote and all of you will find out come next election.”

Laura Taliaferro Pearson, a mother of three and a grandmother, questioned whether parents can even trust the school district.

“You think our students, parents and teachers signed up for this?”Peason asked.

“Teachers signed up for this profession to make a difference in children’s lives, not for this. They can’t even teach without fear of disciplinary action.

“We entrust our children to you, but should we?”

Pearson also brought up Senate File 117, a bill proposed during the session this year that’s similar to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay”law.

According to a Casper Star-Tribune story from May 8, the bill “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.”

Pearson admitted when she was young, growing up on a sheep ranch, she often wondered why she was born female and not male. She said she wanted to be more like her father instead of spending time in town with her mother and sisters, adding that there is a reason God made individuals the way they are.

“I often still say that I have a male mind in a female body. And I’m proud of that. I’m strong-minded. I’m willing to fight for our rights in our country, no matter what the consequences are,”she said.

“Try to resist falling into this misconception that there is something wrong with you and you must change to be happy with who you are. Right now, we are fighting a battle of good versus evil, and we must prevail if we are going to save humanity.”

The following Sweetwater County legislators also attended Monday’s meeting: Rep. J.T. Larson, R-Rock Springs; Rep.Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs; Sen. Stacy Jones, R-Rock Springs; Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs; Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River; and Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs.

Stith told the school board and the administration that the “pendency of the lawsuit shouldn’t paralyze them from taking action.”

“I think it’s common sense that parents want to be informed about material information concerning their own child,” he said. “I believe in local control. I think the board should be allowed to make a policy that makes common sense so that the parents can be reasonably informed of very important information about their children, and do that in a way that doesn’t endanger children.”

Stith said he expects parental rights bills to be introduced during the next legislative session but urged the school district to not wait for that to act.

“My two cents are that just because you have litigation going on, don’t be frozen,” he said. “You can do the right thing.You can make reasonable policy. You can change your policy without the fear that it’s going to affect your position.”

Green River resident Laura Pavey, who is the chapter chair for Moms for Liberty in Sweetwater County, spoke out in support of the Willey’s parental freedoms.

“I’ll fight for my rights as a parent and a citizen of Wyoming, but I will do it joyfully and with grace. We’re here to protect parental rights at all levels of government. Parents should be involved in their kids’ lives and ask for transparency,” she stated.

Lawsuit background

On April 20, 2023, Sean and Ashley Willey of Rock Springs filed a lawsuit against Sweetwater County School District No. 1, superintendent Kelly McGovern, assistant superintendent Nicole Bolton, director of student services Kayci Arnoldi and Black Butte High School principal Bryant Blake in the federal district court for the District of Wyoming.

In a press release sent to the Rocket Miner from the Willey family’s attorney Ernest G. Trakas on Tuesday, May 9, the lawsuit alleges violation of the Willey’s first and 14th Amendment rights of free exercise of religion, free speech, and parental rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 based on the school district’s providing gender altering care and using a male name and pronouns with their daughter.

Trakas said that he will be traveling to Cheyenne from St. Louis, Missouri, to represent the Willeys.

“This is an important issue in the nation right now,” Trakas told the Rocket Miner.

District personnel also endorsed and provided counseling services promoting the gender altering care pursuant to a district wide directive, without Sean or Ashley Willey’s knowledge or consent. The Willeys only discovered the school district’s actions when Mrs.Willey overheard a conversation between two school district employees.

The Willeys followed the filing of their lawsuit by filing a motion for preliminary injunction on April 21, to which Takas revealed that the school district has until Monday, May 15, to respond.

“It’s a request for the school district not to continue their protocol in affirmation of gender without parental consent,” he explained.

Trakas detailed in the press release that at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year the Willeys’daughter, then age 15, asked school officials to call her by a male name and use male pronouns.

In March 2022 Mrs. Willey first learned that teachers were referring to her daughter by a male name and with male pronouns.

Trakas stated that no one at the school district informed the Willeys of this change even though their daughter has a Sec. 504 accommodation plan in place, pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires parental notification for any mental health issues that arise at the school, which impact or modify an existing Sec. 504 accommodation plan.

School district administrators and teachers advised the Willeys that they were required by law not to inform parents of their actions, the press release stated.

In addition, Ashley Willey was instructed that, as a teacher employed by the school district, she would have to honor the request of students to be called by a name and pronouns that conflict with the student’s biological sex, based on the student’s gender identity. Mrs.Willey was also told that she could not inform parents about their children’s alternate identities at school, even if the parents asked her directly.

Further, SCSD1 administrators informed Mrs. Willey that she could not let her religious beliefs against using false names and lying to parents get in the way of following their directives.

Through their lawsuit, the Willeys seek the following:

a declaration that Sweetwater County School District No. 1 officials violated their parental rights;

a preliminary and permanent injunction forbidding school officials from referring to their daughter and their other children in any way other than according to their biological sex and cease having private conversations with their daughter regarding her gender identity;

and a declaration that school district officials violated their right to familial privacy, their free exercise of religion and Ashley Willey’s freedom of speech.

Trakas said that he expects the court to expedite this case “expeditiously.”

 

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