SHERIDAN — More than 120 people packed the council chambers and adjacent hallway last week at Sheridan City Hall to organize and oppose mask requirements being adopted by local school districts.
“This is just for (Sheridan County School) District 2 right now,” said Tiffany Leimback, one of the organizers of the Sept. 2 meeting. “We’re sure districts 1 and 3 aren’t far behind.”
Leimback and Shelta Rambur created a Facebook page, Free Our Faces, and hosted Thursday’s meeting, a gathering held four days after the SCSD2 District of Trustees approved a recommendation updating the district’s COVID-19 plan requiring students, staff and visitors to wear protective masks inside all school and district buildings, as well as on buses.
Sheridan County School District 1 also held a special meeting Wednesday and adopted a similar masking requirement to help prevent the spread of the virus and keep schools open.
Leimback attended several school board meetings to voice her opposition to a mask requirement and has even withdrawn her two children from SCSD2 schools after the board’s action Monday, but added it’s now time for parents to organize to make their concerns heard.
“I’ve tried for a medical exception. I’ve tried for a religious exemption. Everything,” she said. “We’re done. I’m tired.”
Leimback said she and Rambur, and many others, stand ready to challenge the school board and the mask requirement, seeking to restore their parental rights.
At Thursday’s meeting, organizers presented two petitions. One was to request SCSD2 board members voluntarily resign from office and another to recall election results and remove board members.
“We’re fighting,” Leimback said. “It’s not going to be easy. It will be a tough road, but we’re doing it.”
Rambur said she was excited to see the number of people attending Thursday’s gathering.
“This is huge,” Rambur said. “This tyranny needs to end on our watch. This ends when the collective ‘we’ stands on our principals.
“Not fighting has far worse consequences,” she added. “Tonight, we have one big, undeniable voice for our rights.”
David Iverson of Buffalo, the founder of Patriot Conservatives of Johnson County, a political advocacy organization focused on supporting the conservative values and principles, said people need to believe they can make a difference and cause change.
“Don’t ever think that because you’re one person you can’t do anything,” he said.
Iverson added the Wyoming Constitution and state statutes leave decisions regarding a child’s welfare are left up to the parent, not a school district or other entity.
According to Article 1, Section 38 of the Wyoming Constitution, “The parent, guardian or legal representative of any other natural person shall have the right to make health care decisions for that person,” and also states “The Legislature may determine reasonable and necessary restrictions on the rights granted under this section to protect the health and general welfare of the people or to accomplish the other purposes set forth in the Wyoming Constitution.”
Wyoming Statute 14-2-206 states that care, custody and control of a child is a “fundamental right that resides first in the parent.”
Iverson told the audience at Thursday’s meeting that they can reassert those rights by coming together.
“The only way they can take your rights away is if you give them up,” Iverson said. “It takes citizen involvement to make changes in policy. You have to be involved.”
That involvement can take many forms, Iverson said, from attending local governmental meetings, to organizing and communicating with others or even just signing a petition.
“Honestly, it’s time to get off your butt and do something,” he said. “It’s the only way anything will get done.”
Nick Beduhn, an attorney from Cody who was in attendance at the gathering, said he is working with the group pro bono and stands ready to file a potential lawsuit and civil rights complaint against the mask requirements.
“This is a civil rights movement. That’s important,” Beduhn said. “We’re not asking for permission anymore.”
Besides seeking legal remedies, Beduhn said concerned residents and parents should also seek other options in fighting mask requirements and for the restoration of their parental rights. Those options could include the creation of a charter school.
“You have wonderful teachers that are here and can do this,” Beduhn said. “We have to start to think outside the box. … We need to set up a second situation where we can play by our rules.”
Local resident Shannon Rankin said one option is for concerned parents to pull their children out of public schools and home-school.
“The only way this school district has power is when you give it to them,” Rankin said. “How you do that is by enrolling your children.”
But Rankin said home-schooling now offers parents a variety of learning programs, including online platforms.
“You can do anything you want,” she added. “You’ll be able to eat your cake and have it too.”
No matter what option parents choose to fight the mask requirements, Beduhn urged those involved to be civil. They were also reminded to be patient but stay involved.
“This is going to take a long time,” Iverson said. “The people you’re going against know this. Their ultimate goal is to wait you out.”
They might not have to wait too long, however. With help, Leimback said she hopes to present the first batch of signed petitions to the SCSD2 board at its regular monthly meeting Sept. 13.
The group has also scheduled its next meeting for Oct. 5, although the location of the gathering has yet to be determined.
Leimback said local residents and concerned parents may receive updates on the group’s progress through its Facebook page.