Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder testified for a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce on Oct. 19, 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of U.S. House subcommittee stream)

The Wyoming Department of Education will formally step into the ongoing battle over library books next month when it releases guidance and model policies to local school districts. 

“I respect local control in government including authority of books and curriculum by locally elected school boards,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder told the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education on Thursday. 

“However, through our research, we found that many districts do not have a robust system or policies in place for appropriate library materials, and they need support from the state level,” she said. 

As a result, Degenfelder said her office has created statewide library guidance with sample definitions and model policy in collaboration with parents, librarians, school administrators and school board members of “varying backgrounds and viewpoints.” 

Further details about the guidance and its development will be shared on Nov. 1, when the department will hold a press conference, WDE spokesperson Linda Finnerty told WyoFile. The guidance will also be released that day. 

“This issue of sexually explicit material in schools must be addressed so that we can return our focus to the fundamental purpose of education and regain trust in public education,” Degenfelder told the subcommittee.

Degenfelder is in her first year in office. On the campaign trail, she weighed in on the Natrona County school board’s decision whether to keep two controversial books, “Gender Queer” and “Trans Bodies, Selves,” in the Kelly Walsh High School library. She characterized the books as unsuitable for minors, but made clear that decisions about library materials should be made at the district level in accordance with local control. The forthcoming statewide guidance, however, marks a definitive step toward a more top-down approach.  

Protesters on the front lawn of the Campbell County Library on July 14, 2021. The group of two dozen protesters objected to the library’s promotion of LGBTQ content in the library’s collection. (Nick Reynolds/WyoFile)

Congressional hearing 

Across Wyoming and much of the country, parents, librarians and public officials are divided over what books should be accessible to children, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ+ content and material that touches on race. Earlier this year, Terri Lesley, a nationally-awarded librarian, was fired from her post of 27 years at the Campbell County Public Library after a two year-long saga over books. Lesley is now suing

In Washington, Degenfelder was one of four panelists to testify during Thursday’s congressional hearing on “combating graphic, explicit content in school libraries.”

Degenfelder spoke in harmony with most of the panel, which included a Moms for Liberty Maryland chapter chair, Lindsey Smith, and Max Eden, a research fellow at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute. 

“Inappropriate and sexually explicit materials in schools” are “destroying trust and confidence in our public education,” Degenfelder testified before sharing the story of a mother she said she encountered on the campaign trail. 

After the woman’s daughter approached her about a book that made her uncomfortable, the woman read the book herself, Degenfelder said. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the woman was triggered by “sexually depicted graphic acts,” Degenfelder said. When the daughter and several other students asked to opt out of the book, Degenfelder said, “the teacher became their bully.”

When asked by Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Bean of Florida what other states could learn from Wyoming, Degenfelder reiterated her support for local control “and decision making as close to the people as possible.

“But as I mentioned, knowing that school board members are made up of volunteers and have a heavy task ahead of them — my father served on our local school board — we need to make sure that we provide support to them, model policy and guidance from the state level. And at the local level, I think it’s incredibly important to have transparency, to have processes in place and to have public input. Those things are important, and for our local schools and leaders to remember that, again, they cannot step beyond the bounds of the rights of parents.”

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs for PEN America, was the lone panelist to speak in opposition to library book bans. 

“We can and we must distinguish between a single parent raising a concern with the school and the current campaign to disrupt public education writ large,” Friedman said. “Our students deserve to be able to access high-quality educational resources, to access works of literature that reflect their identities and the complexities of their lives. Not every book is for every kid. Not every book is for every family.”

Last month, the Washington Post reported that 60% of all book challenges in the nation came from only 11 adults.

Praise and criticism back home 

The Wyoming Democratic Party criticized Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder with this graphic on Instagram for tying fundraising efforts to her congressional testimony. (Screenshot)

After her testimony, Degenfelder used the hearing to raise money politically. 

“I’ve just finished testifying before Congress in Washington that we must safeguard our children from graphic and sexually explicit content in school libraries,” Degenfelder wrote in a fundraising email sent Thursday. 

“I need your support to continue this critical fight. Your contribution of $50, $100, $250, $500, or even $1,000 can help us make a difference in our fight for Wyoming’s future,” the email states.

That drew an angry response from critics.

“It was truly disgusting watching Megan Degenfelder sit in front of Congress and accuse Wyoming’s educators of teaching pornography in the classroom,” the Wyoming Democratic Party said in an Instagram post on Friday. “Even more disgusting? She was fundraising off of it before the mic was even cold. She’s filling her campaign coffers by trashing our teachers and exploiting our children.”

Meanwhile, the Wyoming Freedom Caucus thanked the superintendent in a Facebook post for her testimony. During this year’s legislative session, Freedom Caucus member Jeanette Ward (R-Casper) authored in response to the library book controversy a measure that would have expanded the definition of child pornography in Wyoming, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The bill, which was co-sponsored by other caucus members, died in committee.

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. Much ado about what is, essentially, nothing at all, except an imposition on all of the beliefs of a relative few. Give kids some credit for being able to judge for themselves what they want to read rather than imposing certain superstitious belief systems onto them.

  2. To those who claim this righteousness in the name of religion, I quote Proverbs 9:13

    The woman of folly is boisterous,
    She is naive and knows nothing.

    Which is the ultimate purpose of censorship-to be naive and know nothing, because we will then believe their folly.

  3. I hoped she would be better than the maniac she replaced. But as long as this state insists on electing only Republicans to statewide office, this is the stuff we’re going to get.

  4. It appears we have elected a self-promoting State Superintendent of Public Instruction who uses every opportunity to build her “brand” and fundraise while undermining local school boards and local control. Quit bashing educators and listen to them. Meanwhile, the State Dept. of Education is in disarray and districts hear only denial and excuses when voicing their concerns.

    1. If I remember correctly, last year when she put together a group to evaluate WY education, and determine where it should go in the future, there were no educators or school administrators in the group. What!!!????

  5. Degenfelder misrepresented many of her positions during the election to garner support from more moderate voters around the state who were tired of the “crazy” represented by other candidates. Sadly, she is just a puppet for the Wyoming “Freedom” Caucus. I though the GOP was the party of “local control?”

  6. And to think she was the less crazy of the 2 Republican candidates running for this position! And yes, collection development in libraries already has guidelines – overseen by professional, degreed, experienced librarians. And not by a rightwing political organization whose actual experience in, or knowledge of, a library is sorely lacking.

  7. Very embarrassing watching Degenfelder work hand in hand with far right (very well funded and in NO WAY a grass roots movement) lobbying group Mom’s For Liberty. Another fabricated crisis, none of these books have been an issue until the far right needed something to campaign on because they have to scare people into voting for them (just like CRT was NEVER an issue in K-12 schools). Sad that all they can campaign and fundraise on is banning books (when they aren’t trying to ban people)…very authoritarian.

    1. Degenfelder will leave her position to join moms for liberty in some capacity. This whole thing is a job interview so she can officially join the wannabe book burners.

  8. What her and parents fail to truly recognize is that students, who’s parents give them cell phones with data plans, have access to far more explicit material than our libraries will ever provide them. Additionally, I would love to see more students in the library, engaging in discussions and utilizing the abundance of resources.

  9. If her department has “extra funding” to help local school districts ban books, it might be time to look at why she has extra funding.

  10. Watch the movie Fahrenheit 451. I felt as my children were growing up , the more information they received on everything, they would be able to handle the diversity that is in the world. They are now adults, one of my children became a nurse, the other became a special education teacher. They grew up reading Dr Seuss etc. Personally, growing up Catholic, as I sat in church listening to the stories in the Bible, I thought the stories were very crude and barbaric. Maybe we should ban this book!!

      1. The sex does not start out barbaric or does it?  It starts in vanquishing the fear of the forbidden fruit.  “He beguiled me and I did eat…Genesis 3 and beyond is a story of two cultures clashing and interbreeding.

        Genesis 3 tells the story of the intersection of the Neanderthals with Homo Sapiens. It had to happen somewhere and when it did it left a big impression on human evolution. So much so that it might end up in a story in the embellished oral history of the Jewish people.

        There are varying amounts of Neanderthal genome resident in populations across the world.  So what does that tell us?

        We got close enough to have sex with them but none of them survived?  The amount of DNA suggests a story of how and by what means that occurred.  The Neanderthals did not survive but they conferred discernible traits. Read Genesis with a lens or mindset that tells the flawed  story of how that genome spread through society despite persecution. 

        I grow tired of an arena where religious people get to question and usurp our secular laws without equal protection of our First Amendment right to call out the absurd interpretation of their supposed chief holy book that is to rule America and Wyoming? 

        One of my favorite verses to ask Christians/Jews to explain is the meaning of Gen 3:15 – “He will put enmity between her seed and thy seed.”  I asked my mother that very question yesterday. 


  11. I wish these types of books were available, as well as a place to talk about them, when I was in K-12. Alas most parents did not discuss sex very well and when they did it was far too late and awkward. In my day we discovered our sexual guides in dumpsters and trash cans, but today that imagination is replaced by videos without parental context. Recently I heard the 7th grade Natrona boys were banned from using electronic devices on their bus because someone was showing porn on their phone.

    So-called caring adults have tried repression, denial and control of this subject seemingly forever without achieving any satisfaction, so I wonder what makes people think this time will be different?

  12. Degenfelder, along with other state officials and our state legislature, believe in local control until they don’t. And what is the source of the model definitions and policies that Degenfelder’s office intends to share with local school districts? Perhaps Moms for Liberty or some similar organization? How about a little transparency?

  13. “Teachers Leave those Kids Alone!” ~ Pink Floyd
    Exposing the underbelly of a Christian Fascist Nation? Where is the First Amendment when you need most direly?
    Indoctrination or Education? Ask Socrates!
    Great Work(s) here! Walking on Thin Ice ain’t Easy!

  14. This is so disgusting and alarming on so many levels. Our educators work too hard to have to submit to these uninformed one-sided heavy-handed tactics. Freedom Caucus? Give me a break. Parents, please stand up and fight this.

    1. Excellent comments all around, this is all about the Republican war on public education. If you don’t think it is, explain to me how you think religious and private schools with no over-site aren’t going to propagandize kids, I especially like the cell phone analogy. There are schools in this state that don’t even have a library! That seems like a bigger problem that should be addressed rather than this silliness.