Natrona School Board Interviews: Hopkins and Redding
This is the fourth article in a series of interviews on the 15 candidates running for the Natrona County School District (NCSD) board of trustees.
Jenifer Hopkins is a mother of six.
While some have been homeschooled, others have graduated high school.
One of her children attends Kelly Walsh High School part-time.
She is a member of the group Moms for Liberty and said she's running because she wants to get political ideology out of the NCSD.
"I have a little spiel here. During the past several years, I've seen a shift in the public schools," Hopkins said. "There's been a focus on making the district responsible for raising the whole child and it's been putting a lot of stress on our teachers. Parents are the primary educator of their children and should not be pushed out of the equation of their child's education. I've seen our schools shift from teaching children how to think, to what to think. There's been a lot of political ideologies and biases that should be kept out of the classroom so children can learn how to think. We need to get back to the basics like reading, writing, and arithmetic and the sexualization of children should never be a part of our public education."
When Hopkins refers to 'political ideology' she said she's talking about something to do with LGBTQ topics along with social-emotional learning and the books that the reconsideration committee decided to keep in schools.
"One of the biggest ones right now is the LGBT and I don't know what the big push is. We're seeing a lot more of it in Cheyenne and it's kind of coming down here a little bit too and that's being pushed a lot," Hopkins said. "That kind of goes hand in hand with the sexualization of our kids. It's just really not a part of the education. We really need to stay to the classics of our history, just teach the history. We can't change history, but we can learn from history and it's a lot of, there's the victim, then there's the oppressor coming through these ideologies...especially at NC, I've seen my elder children they don't seem to have a lot of problem with these ideologies and from what I'm hearing what's going on with the Natrona County High School, a lot has changed in a short amount of time, gosh how long it's been since, five, six years I've seen a shift. I don't believe these books, the pornography was in the libraries at that time...This idea with the social-emotional learning that's being pushed on all the children and we already have been doing social-emotional learning with our kids through clubs, through sports."
Hopkins said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution, which she believes is just a theory, and that schools should provide a lot of information about topics.
"Evolution is a theory. All children, if we're gonna teach, it's a theory," Hopkins said. "It should be known that it's a theory and they don't touch much on creation, but they just teach [evolution] as a fact and we all know it's still a theory. I think if we're gonna teach children how to think for themselves, they need to have that information...[creationism] should be mentioned. We're built on a nation of Christian beliefs but I don't see it as a problem, but that's just my belief. We don't know, maybe generalize it more...I'm not going in, this is what I'm doing, I probably wouldn't even be touching on this at all. My points are more the pornography in schools, getting social-emotional learning, the federal strings attached, we have social-emotional learning happening with our children. But it's really not my focus now."
Hopkins said she wants to ask questions about federal funding because she believes it requires that people who identify as girls but were born boys to be allowed into girls' locker rooms.
"I want to ask more questions, I shouldn't say blatantly, yes I would say no, that boys should not be able to say they're girls and automatically just start changing in a girls' restroom around other girls," Hopkins said. "Yes, I would say no to that. And I would say, I want to ask more questions, and I want to answer to the parents and the teachers, and I want to be more transparent, and letting them know what's coming down the line and having a conversation with parents and teachers. That's who I'm going to be working for. I'm not working for the federal government, I'm working for parents and teachers in Natrona County, what are their thoughts?"
Renea Redding is a mother of three children, two in school and a third who's turning four.
She began getting involved with Moms for Liberty and school board meetings in April of this year and said there are several issues she hopes to address if elected.
"I want to look at policies about gender-exclusive sports. They're saying that it's not happening in Wyoming, well our policy for our Wyoming high school sports association does allow it," Redding said. "I want to make sure it doesn't go any further in Wyoming. That's a major policy I want to look at. I want to look at policies as to what we can do to help keep teachers, I want to look at policies to help protect our students against social ideologies, so there's a lot of stuff I want to do, whether or not I'll get it done is another question...So of course, social-emotional learning, [critical race theory], all the transgender stuff, that doesn't belong in schools and I firmly believe that needs to be just academics. People are gonna always come back at me because I always say get back to the basics but it's true. School needs to be about academics and not learning about what gender a child thinks they're gonna be."
Redding said that she takes issue with social-emotional learning, a program called Essential 55, and having more discipline in schools.
"SEL, social-emotional learning, you can see a bit in the elementary schools. So I am kind of one of those, is it really a bad thing? No, because they are teaching about bullying, ok so we have to be very careful," Redding said. "But, at the same time, social-emotional learning, if you're not careful, it will be taken way too far in a school. What I mean by that is so social-emotional learning in Evansville, cause that's where my child goes to school. They have what they call the Essential 55. You're literally teaching kids how to behave. Why are the schools teaching kids how to behave? Shouldn't that be the parents' job? The parents should be teaching their kids that bullying is wrong, right? Now teachers can go around and say 'hey, Joey be nice to Sally,' they need to be able to discipline that...teachers aren't allowed to discipline anymore, that's why kids are so unruly and yes I have seen that in some of the classes where kids just throw temper tantrums, and the teachers can't do anything with these kids...they're not allowed to send them to detention. I mean have you ever heard of anybody going to detention lately?"
Redding said there is a list of essays in the book Hope Nation that her kid in high school was supposed to pick from and she took issue with the options, and out of the four options, specifically saying that she didn't want her child to read one of the stories.
"Different Dances, this is covered about prom, LGBTQ experiences, being closeted, coming out, gender roles, norms, drag queens, stereotypes, and hope. First of all, I told my child she's absolutely not going to be reading that...Ok, so do all of those sound bad? No, but I mean on the outside, of course, they don't sound bad," Redding said. "So I want to know where her option was for the biography for a Supreme Court Justice, or what's it like being a heterosexual in a world today that's all about LGBTQ. Social-emotional learning comes in all different facets. These options in her English class are all about the victimhood, about being an LGBTQ, being anti-Muslim, Nobody Remembers the Names of People Building Walls, experiencing racism. Nothing sounds very uplifting. This is English class, what is she trying to accomplish for her students to read this book?..if the student wants to read those books, they can do that at the public library on their own time. I don't feel like these are very academically centered books. I want to know the teacher's reason behind these books."
Redding said that the issues she's talking about aren't necessarily happening in Wyoming, but she's worried that kids are being bullied.
"Is it happening in Wyoming? No. But I definitely want to stop it," Redding said. "I don't want it to come here...I haven't seen it personally, my children are pretty sheltered. They keep quiet to themselves. But you know you do hear stories of things. Why are they handing out flyers at Kelly Walsh about LGBTQ and being harassed and come find a safe place? Why are we handing out flyers like that? Is there something wrong in the schools that we need to address? Are people being bullied, are people being threatened? Just because you're of a certain group or of a certain race, doesn't mean that you can't be protected. Every student should be protected and feel safe in their school. If there's somebody out there that's not feeling safe, that should be addressed."