Nate Shoutis produced a rap last August ahead of freshman library orientation. 

The Lander Valley High School librarian wrote verses showcasing the technology available to students. He sang about the inclusive spirit of the library he’d worked in for nearly a decade.

The song ended with a medley of genres and books. 

Performing live during the first weeks of language arts classes, Shoutis and his assistant broadcast a message that all students were welcome in the Lander Valley High School Library.

Shoutis wanted students to find the books that interested them the most, whether that be a C.J. Box crime novel or riveting war tale, a colorful graphic novel or a book with LGBTQ+ characters.

Whatever a student’s interests, the library had one main rule, rapped by Shoutis: 

“No put downs.”

Shoutis stressed the rule in response to what he saw as growing animosity toward the school’s LGBTQ+ community. He detailed this climate in a May letter sent to the teaching community of Fremont County School District No. 1, which operates Lander schools. 

The letter argued that school board policy failed to address a rising climate of hate towards LGBTQ+ students and instead tacitly fomented a climate of harassment and discrimination against these students, as well as the censorship of librarians and educators. 

Those concerns have been raised in school districts across the nation. School libraries have become home to a polarizing debate over the books that should be available to students. Spaces once known as quiet places to study have become clouded in suspicion and rancor.

That climate cost Lander an educator that, according to his students, was deeply caring and universally accepting. At the end of the school year, Shoutis walked away from the library and what he’d once called his “dream job.”

Making of a librarian 

Nate Shoutis packrafting the Popo Agie River from the headwaters back to his hometown of Lander, Wyoming. (Evan Horn)

Libraries run in the Shoutis family. His mother Cady Shoutis served as a librarian at both South Elementary and Gannett Peak. 

He shares her curious eyes. His fit frame is evidence of his love for canyoneering, packrafting, and generally adventuring outdoors. Like many Landerites, he worked as a National Outdoor Leadership School field instructor.

But by his late 20s, he had reached a juncture, deciding whether to take his outdoor educator skills into a more conventional school setting or go back to school himself and study film. 

Both of these callings were kindled in the Lander Valley High School library, where Paula Hunker served as his librarian and videography teacher. She and his mother demonstrated how meaningful a role in the library could be, he said. 

To sort out his decision, he volunteered in Portland, Oregon, shadowing librarians and helping with collection upkeep. 

His mother wasn’t surprised when he decided to join the district as Lander Valley High School’s library media specialist in 2014. 

“I just came to understand the position as one that was really well suited for my skill set, both with technology and media, as well as literacy and reading,” he said. “And just the love of reading.” 

Heart of the job

Shoutis ran the library space and also taught technology classes, where his students learned software and production skills for film, music and audio and 3D printing.

But he viewed the essence of his job more simply: inspiring a love of reading in his students. 

That required tuning into student needs and interests by building relationships. 

“I’m always asking students, ‘Hey, what are you reading? What’s on your radar? What are you looking for?’” Shoutis said. 

Nate Shoutis as a rising Lander Valley High School junior. (Cady Shoutis)

A master’s in education, a certification in language arts and library media and the diverse student body informed his book ordering process.The most important thing, he said, is to foster a collection that facilitates free choice reading, the principle of letting students select their own materials. If someone cared enough to recommend a book, Shoutis said, he’d almost always try to order it, as long as it passed his professional research and review process. 

This professional process did not involve his personal values, he said. When cycling in new books, he would remove volumes that were falling apart, were out of date or hadn’t been checked out in years. 

“But it is never about, ‘oh, our value systems have changed, and we’re updating our value system or our moral systems at all.’ It has nothing to do with that,” he said. “What it has to do with is trying to make sure we have a balance of everything in the library.”

Book controversy 

American history is littered with examples of book bans. Volumes considered classics — “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” — have been repeatedly challenged nationally by critics who contend they aren’t suitable for young people.

But the recent wave of book challenges stands out. In 2022, the American Library Association reported a record number of demands to censor library books and materials. The increase came as right-wing groups such as Moms For Liberty spurred regional efforts to curb “woke indoctrination” within schools and public libraries.

The culture wars have raged for decades in the U.S. But in the recent past, a new battleground emerged: the school board. 

Shoutis’ professional work — which he says had not been questioned in his nearly a decade tenure — became the subject of scrutiny in December. Concerns over the books available in Lander school libraries, as well as the policy for challenging them, reached the board governing Fremont County School District No.1. 

Board member Scott Jensen said he raised the issue after being approached by community members who were concerned about the process of challenging reading materials. Under the system that existed at the time, the district superintendent settled book complaints, but that decision could be appealed to the school board.

National concerns about reading resources and the ability to challenge them raised local unease over the school district’s policy, according to Jensen. 

Jensen advocated for reconsidering the process “to address the tenor of the adversarial nature of the old policy and the complexity of it, to make it more simple,” he explained in an interview with WyoFile. 

“I wanted to implement something that was more transparent,” he said. “So that people could see that, in fact, what is happening in other parts of the country really isn’t happening here.”

On this point, Shoutis agrees. During his time as librarian, only one parent had approached him with a concern over a library book. 

“The whole issue is completely fabricated. Utterly, a non-issue,” he said. 

Shoutis believes the national issue escalated in Wyoming after interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder organized the Stop the Sexualization of Our Children press conference. The conference, held in October at Little America in Cheyenne, provided a map of Wyoming school districts that offered books of concern, as identified by conference organizers.

He believes that the anti-sexualization movement is aimed at eliminating LGBTQ+ voices and material — both in and out of libraries. 

“I think the whole maneuvering is to silence LGBTQ and Black perspectives in schools completely. So it’s not just about censoring books. It’s about censoring everything.” 

Board members Aileen Brew and Jensen offered two competing policy drafts. In his letter, Shoutis endorsed Brew’s policy, which would have left appeals in the hands of a committee of stakeholders rather than the board. 

However, the board adopted Jensen’s approach in a 4-3 vote at a June board meeting. 

The updated policy places the final consideration of materials in the hands of the school board, which is supposed to render a decision based on “community values.” 

Jensen says that community values are an incredibly difficult thing to define, but are ultimately up to the acting school board to determine via open debate and public discussion. The ultimate “check and balance on that is the democratically elected board,” he said. “So if the board gets out of tune with the community, and then whichever members are out of tune will get voted out, and there’ll be a new board.” 

Shoutis argues that the resulting community values will not be a measure of the entire district but rather reflective of the seven-member school board. “Make no mistake — he is very much describing classic book banning and censorship,” Shoutis wrote in his May letter. 

Rising violence and school board policy 

Shoutis did not pull any punches in his letter. 

A series of new school board policies over the last two years, he argued, have not only failed to address rising harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, but removed protections for them as well. He was in a position to know. Shoutis was advisor for the SPEAK club, the high school’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance organization. 

In the letter, he describes a dangerous disconnect over what is directly harming students and the school board’s recent policies. While officials fret over library books, real harm against LGBTQ+ students gets overlooked, he argued. 

The main problem, Shoutis contends in his letter, is the rising climate of harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and the inability to counter it due to an inadequate reporting system. 

Jensen, for his part, agrees that the reporting system is ineffective, describing it as opaque. It operates as a one-way reporting loop, where students and educators report episodes of bullying, but do not receive follow-up on if or how the situation has been resolved. 

It is the administration’s, rather than the board’s, job to manage that issue, Jensen says. He said the administration has been collecting data on the problem before they change the reporting system. 

But Shoutis argues that student needs are being neglected. 

In spring of 2022, he and the SPEAK club members spent a month’s worth of lunchtime meetings logging student experiences with bullying and what they see as a broken reporting policy to share with the counselors, administration and later the board. The policy remains the same. 

Shoutis with SPEAK club members and Ray Kasckow of Wyoming Equality after a day of workshops hosted by the University of Wyoming. (Felanie Kelson)

Instead, Shoutis argues recent policy changes — regulating the teaching of controversial issues and dissolving explicit non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community — have made it harder to report instances of harassment and discrimination.

Further, the teaching controversial issues policy adopted by the board in spring 2021 — compounded by the push to ease book-challenge policy — prompted teachers like him to censor themselves, which Shoutis said limited his ability to be an effective educator and librarian. 

But that’s a feature, not a bug, Jensen countered.

“That is, in fact, the purpose of that policy, is to have teachers to self censor themselves so that they do not use their platform to proselytize to kids,” Jensen said.

In April, Shoutis was reprimanded via the policy over a student-designed banned book display that featured queer-themed books. But by then, he’d already made the decision to leave. 

As an educator trying to mend what he saw as a disconnect between students who felt harmed and the higher ups, and as a librarian trying to uphold the American Library Association’s standard — “freedom to read” — he was depleted. 

He gave notice to resign in February. It was time to step down for his own health and to give the school time to find a strong replacement. 

His last day was May 26.

A few weeks later, at his home framed by the brick-red canyon rocks of the Wind River uplift, Shoutis had to look away when remembering his time at Lander Valley High. 

He was crying. 

“I guess the only thing I would say is that the heroes in the story are just the students themselves, these queer students because they are so resilient, ” he said.

A loss for students 

With Shoutis’ departure, former students feel they’ve not only lost a deeply welcoming librarian, but a generous tech wizard and fierce advocate. 

“I don’t want to think about whether the new librarian will do a good job,” said Finn Gebhart, a rising Lander Valley High junior. 

“I think it’s a loss that our school and our school district will never get back.” 

Gebhart was in Shoutis’ emerging technology class, where students had the chance to learn animation, music production and video editing software. 

“It feels like very rarely do teachers genuinely care about what is going on in their students’ lives, and to some extent, even the education that their students are receiving,” Gebhart said. 

SPEAK club member Felanie Kelson recalled when Shoutis worked to find a coach for the speech and debate club so that forum remained available for students. 

They also remembered when Shoutis chaperoned the annual SPEAK club field trip to the University of Wyoming’s Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. The students had the chance to thrift for outfits for a queer dance party hosted on the last day. 

The Lander Valley High motto is “every student every day.”

“[It is] definitely not met, but [Shoutis] made sure that every student he interacted with, like that the goal was every student every day,” Kelson said. 

Shari Haskins, who manages Riverton’s public library, said Shoutis is “kind and generous to his profession and to his students.”  

Nate Shoutis ice climbing Smooth Emerald Milkshake in Cody, Wyoming in 2016. (Evan Horn)

“He so embraced the profession and what he could do with it for the students. It was a break from mediocrity. [Mediocrity] has its place because it’s easy. But when you want to excel, you’ll get a lot of criticism, and he was excelling.”

To students like Gebhart and Kelson, it felt like the school board pushed out Shoutis. 

“I just think it’s important to remember him as who he was, and as what he did for our school system,” Kelson said. “But I also think it’s important to note that he would still be here, if it weren’t for our school system, if they hadn’t pushed him out and pushed him to his limit. He’s not the only one that they’re pushing.” 

Board chair Jared Kail said the district cannot comment on Shoutis’ resignation as it is a personnel issue. Brew also said she could not comment as a board member. But speaking as a parent, she said Shoutis had a major impact on her daughter, who met him as a freshman.

“She gained a much greater awareness of social justice issues and the importance of standing up for your beliefs and for the rights of yourself and others,” Brew wrote in an email to WyoFile. 

“Mr. Shoutis encouraged student creativity, intellectual curiosity and involvement, whether students were interested in gaming, or videography or photography, or books,” she added. “He was a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ students in our high school and worked to create a learning and social environment that supported all students.”

Shoutis, for his part, is taking a break from not only teaching, but Lander. During a recent phone conversation, he paused when asked what was next. His response was interrupted by the public address system at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska.

He was headed out for a long trip.

“Lander’s home,” Shoutis said. “I need a break from it, though.” 

“It’s been hard to take that the small town that I grew up in has shown such overt hatred toward a group of people,” he said. “But I haven’t given up on it, even though I’m really, really, really disappointed in a lot of people there right now.” 

Lia Salvatierra is an intern at WyoFile. She is a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and global studies, regionally concentrated in Latin America. Lia is particularly interested in the...

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  1. Sounds like LVHS lost a great resource, that’s really unfortunate for all the students… past, current and future. (Long after my time…I graduated LVHS class of 1980)

    I’m frequently reminded that Wyoming residents like to extoll on the “Freedom” theme. Freedom for whom exactly?

  2. What is sad to me is that instead of solution’s there are words like hate, and victim, being thrown around. I am not seeing the hate at all. I’m not seeing fear. I’m seeing differences that people have not come to the table to work out. I don’t like the labels that then become the issue instead of the real issues.
    That being said, Nate Shoutis was an excellent teacher. I know all of my kids would agree. I thank him for what he brought to LVHS. I try not to judge good and bad. We will see what comes next for Wyoming. All change is difficult.

  3. The firing if this great librarian and stufent mentor in a supposedly “woke” community like Lander is flat out terrible. But students and their allies need to do more than complain. Walk out! Protest! Fight back! Resist! Recruit allies from other parts of the state.

  4. Must be nice think of is it must be nice to afford to quit your high school librarian job to stand up for your principles and then go on a trip to Alaska. Many people would love to have his former gig.

  5. Mr. Shoutis is the reason my son graduated from Lander Valley High School. He accepted my son for who he was and encouraged him to explore his love of film and game design. Thank you Mr. Shoutis, you are one of the best!!

  6. As a retired educator and longtime member of this community I have tears reading this
    well done article. I am very sad for Nate and for the students whom will miss his expertise and caring .

  7. I am a former Wyoming teacher and school board member. Teachers are free to resign whenever they wish and in some cases are fired – happens every year in every school district. I say this to those who think ANY book is “OK” to redefine just what a school library is and how it differs from a public library for adults. BIG DIFFERENCE. All books (especially those depicting acts not appropriate for minors) are simply NOT allowed. I would ask any librarian who thinks it’s appropriate for minors to view “sex books” (or whatever is trendy this week) WHY aren’t there “Penthouse” and “Playboy” magazines on the shelf then? Strangely they are not… So their “theory” is all wet, because the librarian is engaging in censoring if they believe “anything goes”. Hmmm… The librarian does NOT have the final say in what should appear in a school library – the major stakeholders like the parents do and they have let this former librarian know that. Good for them. As a teacher, I would think the test of what should be in a library is this: Could this book serve as a reference for a term paper assignment? As a teacher, I would NEVER accept as term paper or a “book report” something obscene like the library books in question. There’s not time in the instructional day to address topics like that best handled privately by a parent or the clergy. I would NEVER allow discussions or writings devoted to trendy dangerous lifestyles in my classroom. Never, ever.

    1. Excellent point Mr. Weber. I would add that if the school board determines what is appropriate for the library, that is a much better representation of the sentiments of the community because THE COMMUNITY ELECTS THEM. There are commenters here who think that one person in a hired position is a safer representation of the feelings of the community. Nonsense. No doubt the librarian is a fine young man, but his rapport is being used to further the alphabet agenda and condemn people who are indeed offended by such material. I would think that this fine young librarian would welcome the board taking over the responsibility in vetting materials so he wouldn’t be in the hot seat. I think being an activist may be more important to him.

      1. The school board members are lay people, non of which are trained in Library Science. It’s sad when an “agenda”pushes out a highly effective educator with the potential to make a difference in hundreds of students lives.

  8. I read with great sadness that decisions by the Lander school system drove a great educator out of a town I love and that I know Nate does. Managing by fear has taken over our our lives and created these “culture wars”. Stop being afraid of the “others”. Be brave, befriend, hire, get to know, talk to people that are different. Don’t be afraid of your kids reading banned books. Encourage them to read them all. Better yet read them together and talk about them. All will learn something we need to know: How to get along in a world full of different cultures and different people. As my grandmother used to say: Walk a mile in the other persons shoes before opening your mouth. We all belong here and have value. Consider reading The Cultural Creatives for some interesting ideas.

  9. This is a defining issue for our community of Lander. We must remember this tragedy during next year’s school board elections.

  10. I know Nate personally. My daughter raved about him during her four years at LVHS. He was a bright light that a lot of kids needed at that high school.Why, you say? That school is designed only to accommodate a certain type of student. If you are not that type, you are marginalized and bullied untii you either fit the formula or you leave. That “formula” is advocated by many on that board. Inclusion if you play along, exclusion if you don’t. The author named those that spearhead the “way” on the present school board. It was mentioned Nate should have found common ground. He tried, but there wasn’t any by those members and some others at LVHS. I also think that one specific board targeted him personally and directly in the news. I hope that one day, common sense prevails and The Great Gatsby is just a seminal piece of reading about the traps of class and status versus an evil conversation tool that poisons children with those pesky thoughts of self ideation. The book itself lends a lesson those board members should just buy the Cliff Notes for if they feel scared. It’s about an outsider desperate to be included. Just to discover that the “in” was the worst place of all. Maybe that’s what they are scared of. As one of favorite bands would play, ” you don’t have to burn the books, just remove em.”

  11. Soon this sad tale will be repeated in Montana where the Legislature and Governor value conformity over creativity. Petty and outspoken members of the public will drive good teachers and librarians out of the public schools. The schools will suffer. But the talented teachers and librarians will thrive in their new positions.

  12. “All government, — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, — is founded on compromise and barter”. Edmund Burke. Was that opportunity missed?

  13. excellently put Dan. Wyomings mantra of “we dont care how you live if it doesnt affect me” seems to only apply if you toe an imaginary constantly shifting line.

  14. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed once again in Lander. After 72 years in Wyoming and 40 of those in Lander I’ve concluded calling Wyoming the “equality state” is a joke. For the white folks, like myself, who have never felt discrimination or hatred, Wyoming looks like a nice place to call home, away from the craziness else-where. But beneath that thin veneer is a majority that looks down on those that don’t look, live, or think like they do. There are fantastic, generous, loving people in Wyoming, but in my opinion, after a lifetime spent in Wyoming, they are outnumbered. I encourage you to decide to which group you belong.

    1. Dan: You’re right – but the harsh realities is that Wyoming is probably the most conservative right leaning state in the US with about 70% of the population falling in that category. I live here because I do not like the politics of places like California – everyone i know abhors the idea of new residents from progressive states bringing their ideas from their former residence to Wyoming – we resist change because we like Wyoming the way it is – is that discrimination, well yes in some ways it is. Bottom line – not everyone is welcome here.

  15. Thanks for the well-written article. Sad to see a great educator leave due to such short sighted, naive religious politics. Wyoming can’t afford to lose humane, thoughtful people.

  16. Contrary to what the “Moms Against Liberty” like to rant about, there is a “how and why” (and professionalism) to a library’s Collection Development. “A master’s in education, a certification in language arts and library media and the diverse student body informed his book ordering process.The most important thing, he said, is to foster a collection that facilitates free choice reading, the principle of letting students select their own materials. If someone cared enough to recommend a book, Shoutis said, he’d almost always try to order it, as long as it passed his professional research and review process.”

  17. I say he cut and ran. When the going got tough, he got going….to Alaska. For an educator to call people with different opinions “Haters” is a bad example to all students. A mature leader might work together with others to find common ground to begin a dialogue of mutual respect with equal treatment, not preferential treatment. Many places are different than Wyoming, not worse, not better, just different. There’s a place for everyone, so don’t stop looking until you find it.

    1. what sort of preferential treatment are you referring to? I think the term “haters” is just fine for people who are literally spewing hate towards people that are different. Saying we need a mature leader when the current leaders making these rules get their news from targeted facebook articles is an insane fallacy.

    2. There seems to be a crazy dichotomy in your comment, Mr. Rozman. First you say he “cut and ran. When the going got tough, he got going…to Alaska.” But then, after calling out Nate as a “bad example” because he spoke from the heart and from his personal, hands-on, eyes open, ears open experience, you end by saying “There’s a place for everyone, so don’t stop looking until you find it.” Isn’t that the polar opposite of accusing someone of “cutting and running” ?

    3. Even if he did cut and run, he took his skills and knowledge with him and you have lost. What professional, equally qualified will apply?

    4. Apparently there is no longer a place for everyone in many parts of Wyoming. Respect means “Respect for Everyone’s Views and Lifestyles”

  18. Being an educator myself, it is so very sad to hear Nate felt he needed to leave his post. Great, caring teachers are hard to find. With that said, why is it that the politically progressive crowd cries to ban “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” yet screams about LGBTQ book censorship. Students need a broad exposure to literature. They need exposure to most age appropriate literature. They need mentorship by teachers like Nate. However, when progressives start the battle (banning books) the tragic casualties are great teachers like Nate.

    1. What gives you the completely misguided notion that progressives are trying to ban To kill a mockingbird and Of mice and men?! That could not be more wrong.

    2. I think you meant to say “regressives” start the battle of banning books, not pro-gressives.

      1. From the article itself: “American history is littered with examples of book bans. Volumes considered classics — “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” — have been repeatedly challenged nationally by critics who contend they aren’t suitable for young people.” Here are some links:

  19. Creating an environment where students feel open to be themselves is special. The delight my child felt spending time in the LVHS library was palpable due to the creative, diverse accepting environment Mr Shoutis and Mr Potter provided. It wasn’t just about the books, my son learned how to creat music digitally through Mr Shoutis, he spent his free time enjoying discussions with Mr Shoutis he felt welcomed and relaxed in the library.
    I support Mr Shoutis leaving for his own well being and and feel Lander Valley Highschool has lost an amazing and uniquely creative and caring educator.

  20. To lose such a dedicated librarian who was so passionate about his work will have such a negative effect on students and by extension our community. We need educators who make all students feel safe and valued, and encourage critical thinking skills. Enjoy your adventures in Alaska Nate, but remember that you have much to offer Lander.

  21. This article reflects this moment in time and history, if you don’t think like me I hate you, if you don’t look or act like me I hate you. If you think like us we will protect your freedom. This neofreedom sprew is ironic and debilitating. Well done, Lia.

  22. As a parent of two boys who had Nate at LVHS, I can attest that he was bright light in their high school experience…truly a great educator, caring, focused on the kids, and nurturing their growth. I also saw Nate bring some of his students to the state legislature during the session so that they could see first hand how that process works. What dedication! As a former school board member, I came to learn that this is just the kind of educator we needed in the school system – a person that could foster learning and growth for all students…not just the stellar academic or athletic students – but find ways to engage all students. Nate’s story is a sad testament to our community and a great loss. I wish Nate well and thank him for his service to my kids and others at LVHS.

  23. Wow. This is a devastating read. Lander’s kids had an incredible, life-changing teacher in Nate, and a few bigots threw that away. Why is that the people pretending to “look out for the kids” are always the ones who do the most damage to them? Just utterly shameful.

  24. I just want to thank you for publishing this article. Although it surely has bad, sad news, it also reports about great commitment, wonderful heart, concern and care. It is tragic we lost Nate.

  25. Nate’s moral compass points true. I look forward to the time when the one he uses in the wild points him home.

  26. Thank you for sharing this story. It’s a sad time for the community values of acceptance, inclusion, freedom, and compassion. Hopefully this story brings out the voices who share those community values.

  27. What a sad day for Lander. To lose someone who was smart and cared so deeply for all the students is tragic. Why censorship is being allowed is shameful. It is a strong indicator of small minded people but it will backfire because people like Shoutis leaving will make the community more fragmented and less tolerant. Both are really bad especially in smaller communities.

  28. I’m really, really sorry that Nate, who grew up in Lander with my own children, a well educated and talented teacher had to leave a teaching job in our schools. As a private teacher, I am hearing horror stories from my students about the Lander schools. Though I never thought our schools were stellar 20 years ago because of administration when my kids were there, there were excellent teachers in the system. Now— the excellent teachers are leaving or staying in an unhappy, unhealthy environment that doesn’t support true education. I’m very sorry for Nate.

  29. The loss of an exceptional, committed educator like Nate Shoutis is painful and discouraging. He was both nurturing students and challenging them to grow. This is education at its best.