CHEYENNE — Two Wyoming residents are seeking answers as to how an anti-sexualization press conference held by the now-former state superintendent was organized and paid for.
George Powers and Rodger McDaniel are both retired attorneys living in southeastern Wyoming who filed a lawsuit Friday in Laramie County District Court. The civil complaint and petition for access to public records was against the Wyoming Department of Education, as well as Communications Director Linda Finnerty and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder.
McDaniel, of Laramie, is currently the pastor of Cheyenne’s Highlands Presbyterian Church and writes a weekly column for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Powers lives in Cheyenne and has written occasional op-eds that have been printed in the WTE.
When he was serving as state superintendent, Schroeder held an event titled “Stop the Sexualization of Our Children” at the Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne on Oct. 25, 2022.
He invited lawmakers and members of the public to the event, originally scheduled to be held at the Emerson Building, to bring awareness to what he described as the sexualization of children and the ways that it was happening in public schools.
Questions were raised surrounding the official involvement of the Wyoming Department of Education in the event, along with the state superintendent’s role, in the weeks preceding the event.
The WDE eventually sent out a statement Oct. 19 stating that the superintendent decided to separate the press conference from the agency, and no state funds would be used in connection with the event, but Powers and McDaniel investigated further. Some of those inquiries were answered after months of correspondence and public records requests, but there were still alleged gaps, material misrepresentation and pushback laid out in the documents filed.
Schroeder’s time as the state superintendent of public instruction has since ended, and Republican Megan Degenfelder took office in January after she was elected to the position last November.
The former state superintendent didn’t respond to requests for comment.
WDE Communications Director Finnerty said the state agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The two plaintiffs told the WTE they will not comment on the litigation at this time. Powers and McDaniel are acting in a “pro se” capacity for the lawsuit, which means they will represent themselves as citizens of the state and not as attorneys.
While they didn’t provide further details on their decision to file the civil lawsuit, their official complaint was extensive.
It is a 16-page document, paired with 13 exhibits, spanning Schroeder’s invitation to lawmakers in mid-October to receipts from the State of Wyoming Individual Procurement Log showing payments for flights and hotels for three guest speakers at the event.
Powers and McDaniel listed out what they considered failures on the part of the department, Finnerty and Schroeder and said the requests were “inadequate, incomplete and non-compliant with the requirements of the Wyoming Public Records Act.”
One of the specific failures listed in the complaint was not providing private emails or text messages from Schroeder, despite the records in these locations being in the custody and control of WDE at the time of the request.
No documents were given showing communications with representatives from Moms for Liberty, guest speakers and representatives from No Left Turn For Education, invitations to parents or legislators, or between plaintiffs and the defendants.
Arguments were also made that the department failed to meet deadlines given by Powers and McDaniel; false representations were made that there were no further records related to funding, despite later showing receipts; and that Schroeder had a duty to preserve any public records on his private accounts acting in an official capacity and to cooperate with the WDE to collect them.
Thirty-four allegations and sub-points were made in the complaint to showcase why it and the petition for access to public records were necessary.
Now the two men are requesting a court grant a judgment in favor of them and award relief for knowingly or intentionally violating public record statutes.
This takes on seven different forms, such as the information originally pursued and the costs of litigation.
Powers and McDaniel want a judge to require the defendants to “fully and properly produce all responsive public records related to the event, including but not limited to all public records generated and/or maintained by the WDE, Finnerty and/or by Schroeder on any public or private electronic account for email and/or text messages.”
Additionally, they requested records related to any communications between any person or organization regarding the event, spanning the WDE, No Left Turn in Education, Moms for Liberty and members of the Legislature.
The plaintiffs want the defendants to produce all complete records of the expenses incurred in connection with the event from state funds and private funds or donations, or materials outlined in their original requests and correspondences throughout the past six months.
Monetary relief was also requested in the form of a $750 fine for intentional failure to produce public records in compliance with the Wyoming Public Records Act and costs incurred in pursuing legal action.There was a final provision for any other further relief “as may be just and proper in the premises.”