At the Natrona County School Board meeting on Jan. 10, dozens of parents and students came up to talk about how they felt about the need to take certain books out of school libraries.

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At the previous school board meeting in December, several parents came up to speak about how several books that deal with topics of abuse, bullying, addiction, prostitution, and domestic violence are unsuitable for any child to be reading.

In response, at the most recent meeting, a majority of the 32 people that came to speak did so against the idea of taking books out of the schools.

Pam Brondos said that she doesn't believe any personal objections she has to books should be enough to stop others from reading certain books.

"What I don't have, and what I shouldn't have, is the power to restrict what other students in this district read. Trustee McCullar's comments last month concerning censorship and the difficulty solely on excerpts is well-founded...I read two of the books mentioned last month. As whole texts, they tackle really difficult and mature topics, and unfortunately, some of these topics are topics that kids have to deal with on a daily basis at school. While the subject matter is mature and difficult, the two books I read give the students a path through difficult times and the means and mechanisms to learning empathy and understanding."

Zachary Schneider, a theater teacher at Natrona County High School, said there are plays that he puts on that cover difficult subject matter, and that none of the books brought up meet the legal definition of obscenity.

"When I choose material to present on our stage, I do so in a very thoughtful manner," Schneider said. "When I engage with greek plays, Oedipus ladies and gentlemen did some unspeakable things. As did the women in Lysistrata...my job as a teacher is to talk to students about how we have conversations about this material, so that they can do it in an educated way and that they can do it in a safe way."

Venus Childress said she believes that while there may be some restrictions stopping students from checking out certain books, that won't stop some from getting their hands on them.

"The problem is, these books, if they are there, are accessible to every child in that school," Childress said. "Now perhaps, there is a flag as far as librarians to let a child check a book out. But I'm not so naive, and I don't think most of the adults are so naive to think that because a person can't check out that book from a library, that they can't go through that book, read that book, at other times. Or have a friend check that book out who doesn't have restrictions."

R J Shane, who recently graduated from Kelly Walsh High School, said, as someone who is transgender and queer, books like Gender Queer are important to everyone in the district who appreciates seeing themselves represented.

"I was also a transgender student, a queer student, and a student who went to school every day scared of how I felt, who I was, and most importantly how other students would treat me if I came out," Shane said. "...it's not often that we have the opportunity to read positive LGBTQ experiences...If we ban this book, we are showing every transgender and nonbinary student that they do not belong in our district. We tell them that their stories must be removed to protect other students of knowledge of their very existence."

At the end of the meeting, several board members spoke about how they appreciated the points presented and the respectful dialogue that community members engaged in.

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