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Parent Josh Covill, who suggested the book “Drama” be removed from elementary school libraries, speaks at the public meeting regarding his challenge on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, at Laramie County Community College. Covill complained that the graphic novel, which features LGBTQ+ themes, is available in elementary school libraries, and that the book is inappropriate for students that age. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – One parent’s effort to remove from school libraries a book they said “praises normalization of the LGBTQ community” has officially failed.

“As superintendent, I want to inform the board that I am accepting the committee’s recommendation to retain ‘Drama’ in all school libraries and classrooms with no restrictions,” Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown told the school board at its regularly scheduled Monday night meeting.

Brown’s statement came four days after a reported 109 people packed into a conference room at Laramie County Community College to offer public comment to the District Reconsideration Committee, which reviews curriculum and library materials.

Brown did not attend Thursday’s meeting, but board treasurer Rich Wiederspahn did.

“I was really surprised, frankly, that there were that many people in attendance,” he said Monday night. “I found it to be a very deliberative process.”

The reconsideration committee voted 7-0 Thursday to keep the book in all school libraries. According to Brown, a parent could have appealed the committee’s decision to him, but since he officially accepted the recommendation Monday night, the decision is now final.

If a parent would still like to discuss the decision, “I’d be more than happy to sit and talk with them,” Brown told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

It should be noted that the committee made its unanimous decision in an executive session. Since it did not give a reason for closing the meeting, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle formally protested the move as a violation of state public meeting laws.

The committee’s ruling followed a string of emotional testimonies, both for and against retaining “Drama,” a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier that tells the story of a middle-schooler named Callie’s involvement with the production of “Moon Over Mississippi.”

Reflecting on Thursday’s meeting, Trustee Nate Breen called the public hearing process “absolutely spectacular,” as it “laid the foundation down for a conversation.”

That conversation started with a comment from Josh Covill, the parent who launched the original complaint in November, in which he wrote that the book “takes away parents’ rights to teach morals and values.”

Thursday night, Covill argued that the book’s exploration of one character’s coming out is inappropriate for elementary school-aged children, such as his 8-year- old daughter, who checked out the book last fall.

“The book is accessible at an inappropriate time for elementary students, from kindergarten through sixth grade, who have not gone through puberty or who are not yet beginning to identify themselves among their friends, families and peers,” Covill said.

Covill’s testimony was followed by numerous students who talked about what seeing LGBTQ-identified people represented in books at school has meant to them.

“This book gives students an option to see that this isn’t something that’s bad. It shows students that other people experience this, and have to go through coming out, realizing themselves that they are gay, bi or anyone in the LGBTQ community,” Ashlynn Kercher, 14, said at Thursday’s hearing. “It helped me a lot because it helped me realize that I’m not alone in this. I’m not attempting to figure out my own sexuality in a sea of straight people.”

Board Chairwoman Marguerite Herman echoed other board members in her assessment of how Thursday’s hearing went. She praised the district’s policy for its “valuing of diversity and critical reading,” and its deference to parents to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for children to read.

“There were a range of views; it wasn’t unanimous,” Herman said Monday night, referring to the tenor of Thursday’s meeting. “But in that diversity of opinions was respect for the other. There was no one getting personal. It was an example of respectful discourse in public.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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