GOSHEN COUNTY – A silent, but audible sigh of relief rushed through those in attendance during Goshen County School District’s (GCSD) board meeting Tuesday night after a roll call vote determined board members opted for noncompliance regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and President Joseph Biden’s Non-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Executive Order to add language relating to sexual orientation or gender identity (SO/GI).
Wyoming District 3 Republican Sen. Cheri Steinmetz along with several community members spoke ahead of the board voting whether to become compliant or noncompliant with the USDA’s new policy as directed from Biden’s Jan. 20, 2021 Executive Order to add extra terminology, protections and prohibitions on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity – in which Biden asked the USDA to withhold its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) program from public K-12 schools that were not compliant with the order.
On May 5, the USDA issued a press release which stated, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced today that it will interpret the prohibition on discrimination based on sex found in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and in the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program, to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA and FNS are issuing this interpretation to help ensure its programs are open, accessible and help promote food and nutrition security, regardless of demographics.”
The USDA said its actions are in line with Biden’s Jan. 20, 2021 Executive Order on preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Local attorney Herb Doby told board members, “I’ve spoken to this issue before in several forums at (Eastern Wyoming College) EWC and (Wyoming) State Legislature – and I just want to remind the board that in Wyoming, the state legislature has authority over what the protected classes are but the school board does not have authority over that.”
“I think – if the school board makes sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class – that’s what we (lawyers) call an ‘Ultra vires’ – or, risk/acting beyond your authority,” Doby explained to the board. “There is not a federal statute nor (Wyoming) state statute from Congress that would give this board the authority to add sexual orientation or gender identity to its protected classes like: age, race, religion and so on.”
“You have a current sitting (Wyoming) Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder who has come out against that (Biden’s EO to USDA policy changes for FNS), in saying that the state of Wyoming and the local school boards should not go along with (become compliant with) what he is calling essentially blackmail,” Doby continued. “His (Schroeder) words, not mine, is this is blackmailing the districts to have them implement sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes – in order to receive that funding (NPS).”
Doby explained several historical case laws and Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rulings regarding Title VII as it pertains to equality and civil rights, as well as Title IX as it relates to better protecting the two genders, especially females. He ended his five minutes in front of board members with a word of caution in voting to become compliant to the order due to state leadership, along with other states challenging the USDA and the Biden Administration’s directives while 26 states continue to seek possible Constitutional challenges.
Pastor Nate Johnson told board members he believes compliance with USDA and the Biden Administration is a “slippery slope” which will lead to the “weaponization of value choices.”
“When we get into the areas of value choice of non-discriminatory policy – we’re getting into deep waters and trouble,” Pastor Johnson said. “My concern, if I’d have one word to explain myself, would be the weaponization of these value choices that someone identifies with.”
Pastor Johnson told board members he understood and sympathized with the board that “no students should suffer with regards to the educational process,” but that voting to be compliant with the USDA and Biden Executive Order would be harmful both ways – those in favor of it and those who oppose it.
“Last time we met up – I had mentioned Harvard's student club run by Christians,” Johnson said. “It was a Christian club (on-campus) and they were banned from Harvard because they (Harvard College Faith and Action or HCFA) had in their bylaws that their leadership must abide by the historic Christian faith value system – which limited marriage between one man and one woman.”
“They couldn’t even staff their own leadership on a voluntary club on campus, with the values of the very identity the group holds – the historic Christian faith,” Johnson explained. “Now, that’s a problem to me – it’s problematic – despite the club offering an olive branch to be off-campus, of which the university refused.”
Johnson added, “so weaponization is a problem, and I believe this has occurred even in the halls of our own campus here at the high school – when that nondiscrimination easily moved to be affirmation.” That movement, Pastor Johnson believes is discrimination against those who believe differently and oppose SO/GI; Johnson also noted to board members the current potential weaponization is the ideology that pushes SO/GI.
Torrington resident, Joshua Krueger offered up other solutions to combat discrimination and bullying he says is a bit more community oriented. One such program Krueger asked board members to consider as an alternative was Rachel’s Challenge.
Rachel Joy Scott, 17, was the first victim to be fatally shot in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo. Since her death, her family learned that Rachel left behind a legacy of kindness and compassion – often seeking out the isolated, lost, lonely, undervalued, underprivileged and outlier students to show them kindness and inclusivity. In light of this revelation, her parents began Rachel’s Challenge, with the hopes of highlighting the true issues of mental health, bullying, isolation and harassment plaguing K12 schools nationwide. To learn more visit, www.rachelschallenge.org.
Krueger also said, “If this were to pass – how are you going to stop a transgender (person), or anyone for that matter, from going into a bathroom or a locker room they choose to go into (not based on gender identity or naturally born sex)?”
“Do you want something similar that happened in Loudoun County (Virginia) high school (Stone Bridge High School), where supposedly a ninth-grade girl was sexually assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt into the school bathroom,” Krueger asked the board. “I don’t want that to happen – and I don’t want that to happen here (Goshen County).”
On May 28, 2021, a high school freshman girl (the Telegram is withholding her identity due to her being a minor and victim in an ongoing case), was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old boy, who claimed to be transgendered. Since then, Virginia authorities learned the male student was moved from his prior high school for another sexual assault and that the district superintendent had known about the earlier incident, approved the transfer and that the male claimed to be transgender.
On July 11, an attorney representing Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) appeared before a Virginia court to shut down Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ grand jury investigation into the school district at the direction of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. Both the probe and case involving the teenage girl are still pending and ongoing; trial dates are tentatively scheduled to begin in the fall.
Sheila Muhlemkamp told board members, “I moved here 15 years ago from California to get rid of and away from all the nonsense that was happening (in Calif.).”
“We can all see what’s happening there – I’ve been so glad that I live in Wyoming, seeing what is happening there (Calif.),” Muhlemkamp said. “I’m concerned about this proposal to change the non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy to add gender identity and sexual orientation – you seem to be putting the cart before the horse.”
“The Wyoming Superintendent Schroeder is looking into the state funding a different source for the lunch program,” Muhlemkamp explained. “The USDA has not taken their money away – why?”
Muhlemkamp asked board members, “Have you considered the discrimination and harassment cases that you’ll have from students who would be required to use restroom facilities and locker rooms with the biologically opposite sexes?”
“This will also ruin the equity of female sports – which we’ve talked about a little earlier – and worked so hard for women to be able to have their own sports and compete – is that worthless now?” Muhlemkamp questioned the board about.
However, more than how it affects Goshen County students, Muhlemkamp questioned how the new proposed USDA, Biden Executive Order policies would affect parents in the community. “I’m also concerned with whether your discrimination and anti-harassment procedure will apply to all of us citizens and parents – who are speaking our concerns – which we’ve seen how this plays out on the national level.”
Torrington resident Bob Peterson told the board, “We’re (Goshen County residents) completely, totally against it (SO/GI policy), “Neither the president of the United States nor Goshen County School District has the authority to change such rules – you need to work closer with your lawyers.”
GCSD mother and Torrington resident Ashley Posten asked board members, “is it weird that currently there are 72 ‘so-called’ genders?”
“How do you even begin to accommodate and understand each and every one of those gender policies,” Posten asked. “That’s going to be impossible – and it’s changing daily.”
“I don’t know what you are going to try and do – my concern is, I have an 11-year-old daughter who is now approaching middle school age,” Posten explained. “As it relates to the locker room and bathroom situation – she is very aware that her body is going to change and is no longer four-years-old; she has concerns – and is nervous.”
Posten told board members, “I think it’s detrimental to some of these girls, it’s hard enough for some of them going through puberty – little alone changing in front of a boy, we don’t need to add to that.”
“I’m not about bullying or harassing – a person must be treated with respect, but a line needs to be drawn, and this policy is causing more harm than good,” Posten explained to the board.
Karen Posten conquered much with Ashley but added she would be more comfortable adding a single use unisex restroom for children and/or staff members who exploring SO/GI.
“Realizing as we talk about changing the discrimination, harassment policies to include gender identity and sexual orientation – (it’s not) about wanting to be better, it’s not because I want the students to be discriminated against or harassed – that’s absolutely not what I want to see happen,” Posten explained. “But you have to consider if you do change this, the bigger issue is that it opens the floodgates.”
“I think all children should feel free to be themselves,” Posten stated. “All children should be comfortable – should feel safe, and by changing this right now, you’re not going to make the majority of children feel safe or feel comfortable.”
US Air Force retiree Paul Puebla, 84, also opposed the new policy and explained that opposition is in part due to his 40 years as a conservative activist as well as listening to his older sister Margaret, who is a retired school superintendent. Puebla told board members, he and his wife left California once they realized the state had abandoned “mostly all conservative values” in the early 90s and found sanctuary in Goshen County, Wyo, where the pair had raised a family and retired.
Puebla said the district can teach children “what (they) need to go out and be successful,” without implementing the SO/GI policies.
“I’ve seen the same thing go on in California, as it is starting to here – and I want to help change and/or stop that,” Puebla explained. He then told board members how California segregated based on a multitude of factors, such as socioeconomic class, faith and originating nationality – in addition to race, gender and disabilities. He informed the board that several areas still have these segregation practices and policies written, active in community covenants, however, that neither Wyo. nor Goshen County had such practices.
Puebla told board members he believes such policies prevent people, particularly children, from “learn to accept who (we are) and be proud of where we come from,” in addition to, “promot(ing) oneself, because no one else will.”
Puebla, who also lectures on Constitutional legalities and laws also said, “these are not laws you’re talking about – Article One, Section One (of the Constitution) says all legislative power is vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall be the House of Representatives and a Senate – no where else in the Constitution does it give the whim of the Supreme Court (of the United States, SCOTUS) to overturn the vote of the people.”
Puebla then explained to the board members that both Amendment 10 and 11, specifically 10, place the duty to represent its electoral constituency and the centralized federal government, otherwise known as the United States, can neither prohibit nor mandate the state in its duties and responsibilities to its people within state boundaries. Essentially, reasserting the Constitution and founding fathers' design to strengthen state sovereignty over a centralized federal government.
Republican candidate for Wyoming House District 5, Scott Smith told board members a vote to become compliant with the USDA/Biden SO/GI policy is a “slippery slope” as he passed out a letter provided by the Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming (FPA of Wyo), a state lobbying division of Focus on the Family.
“To bring forth a few other items in regards to the slippery slope,” Smith said. “If we’re willing to compromise on these things – what else are we willing to compromise on?”
“Where does that slippery slope bend? And once that ball gets rolling, it’s really hard to stop – because I think a lot of things are done with good intentions,” Smith questioned the board about. “But unfortunately, we have a lot of unintended consequences and I think our society is showing that right now, in just about every area – things that have happened, that were allowed in school a long time ago, like prayer and scripture reading, are things we weren’t allowed to stop and not speak up for – and is impossible to do so today.”
“I also encourage you not to buy into the call of indoctrination, which is what I think is a lot of what’s going on and also a couple of points that this Family Policy Alliance letter from Nathan Winters (FPA of Wyo Executive Director) says and what I brought it for,” Smith explained
“I’ll just read a couple of things (from Winters’ letter) that really stood out to me,” Smith told the board. “in these proposed rules to title, our sexual orientation and gender identity to the definition of sex and the statute including within the definition of sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex and increase the requirements Title IX (9) schools have to accomodate pregnancy and pregnancy related conditions, which would then include abortions.”
“There’s whole other realms that we’re not even aware of,” Smith explained. “I can’t imagine going to school, walking on eggshells because one of the things here that Mr. Winters points out – rending the use of biologically accurate pronouns instead of chosen pronouns, would be a whole nother realm.”
Smith explained to the board “this kind of thing – walk(ing) around not knowing how people identify as, I think that would just create even more stress for the children on how to address people.”
Torrington resident Rebecca Cochran likened the policy to “a school bully taking our lunch money – and what happens to the bully? He gets beat up.”
“See, the federal government says we’re not going to give you your lunch money,” Cochran explained. “We’re taking your lunch money – you don’t (respond) by adding non-discriminatory language into policies – you fight back.”
She too also referenced a vote of compliance would be a slippery slope and questioned the board as to where it ends, where the lines are drawn and if that includes the subgroup known as “furry’s”.
Cochran told the board she was confused why there was a need to update, change or manipulate the policy to add SO/GI, when the current Congressional approved policies already stipulate that gender and sex are already protected classes.
Steinmetz also spoke before the board and gave each member their own copies of the U.S. Constitution and read from the Wyoming state Constitution.
“I’m here to talk to you as a fellow elected official,” Steinmetz told the board as she handed out a packet that included applicable state laws, state and federal Constitutional guidelines and the recent SCOTUS ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The Supreme Court (of the United States, SCOTUS) decision on June 30, 2022 – Westford, Va. versus the Environmental Protection Agency, where the Supreme Court ruled that US administrative agencies must comply with the laws established by Congress – this will have rippling effects through all of our federal agencies and their rules and guidances,” Steinmetz explained.
“Right now the USDA has issued this rule in the form of guidance,” Steinmetz stated. “It is a recommendation by the USDA or any regulatory agency, which has no effect or force of law or enforcement mechanism – so right now, this is basically a recommendation and it is voluntary if you choose to comply.”
Steinmetz explained how Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder, Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill, Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier and Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan are already pushing back and fighting against the overreach of regulatory powers by the USDA and Biden Administration. She explained at least 26 states, including Wyoming, have entered into legal actions against the USDA and Biden Administration in response to the executive order.
Schroeder released a press release on June 22 which said, “As Superintendent of Public Instruction responsible for setting Department policy, I immediately opposed this action in the strongest terms possible on legal, political and moral grounds.”
“The Biden Administration gets it wrong again because this action is illegal, which is why 26 state attorneys general are linking arms and demanding a retraction,” Schroeder added. “Undoubtedly, the USDA will face a flurry of lawsuits once rules made pursuant to the Executive Order are promulgated.”
On July 11, Meier told the Telegram, “Wyoming has at least two years worth of excess, surplus funding we can divert to feed our K-12 school children if the USDA and/or Biden Administration decided to withhold and/or pull the FNS grant program from Wyoming Department of Education and/or our public schools.”
“As of right now, no such stipulation exists that states the agency would pull said funding if Wyoming districts chose to vote in noncompliance with the USDA and Biden Administration demands,” Meier explained. “In the meantime, however, that would allow Wyoming the time we would need to make Congressional appropriations to fund K-12 school food programs, to speak to producers and farmers in our state about possibly donating a small portion of their goods to local schools – the possibilities are endless in a state, like Wyoming, that is self-sustaining and community-oriented.”
When asked what message he wanted to convey to his hometown community in Goshen County, Meier said, “stick with your convictions, principals and do what is best for the community – as we’ve always done and know that no one at the state level here in Wyoming wants children to go hungry, nor would we ever allow that to happen.”
“Wyoming, in particular, with our portfolio diversification, stocks, investments and surplus is in good shape and if push comes to shove, we really don’t need nor have to rely on the USDA FNS food program at our schools,” Meier explained.
On July 14, In an exclusive interview with the Telegram, Congressional hopeful Harriet Hageman said, this is a “cascading or, a dominantly effect that we have been having because of the failed Biden Administration.”
When asked to think about her response to the USDA and Biden Administration regarding the FNS grant program, from the point-of-view that she won the election, Hageman said, “I’m not willing to give up our federal funding that should come back to the state of Wyoming.”
Hageman said she would fight back against the USDA and Biden Administration to ensure that the money Wyoming has paid into the USDA for these sorts of programs would be returned to the state to continue to feed Wyominites K-12 students. She stipulated it should be done in block grants so the state could better manage and distribute such monies being returned to the state.
“In my opinion – it’s (what the USDA/Biden Administration is asking for) is unconstitutional,” Hageman added.
More of this exclusive interview with Hagement in an upcoming story.
In a roll-call vote, the following board members voted in favor of being compliant with the agency’s proposed new policy: treasurer Carlos Saucedo, clerk Kerry Bullington and trustee Katerine Paterick. The following board members voted against being compliant with the agency’s proposed new policy: Trustee Sarah Chaires, Trustee Dylan Hager, board member Justin Hurley, board member Matt Cushman and vice chairman Michael Sussex.
The motion failed, 3-5 to pass and no further action was taken nor discussed by members of the board.