Casper City Council candidate Eric Paulson accused a substitute teacher of being a “pedophile” at a Natrona County School Board meeting Monday after the teacher argued in favor of the Kelly Walsh High School library keeping a book that explores gender identity and gender.
In the middle of Paulson’s comments, school board president Ray Katelier asked that Paulson’s microphone be cut off as the board continued to hope for charges against the teacher.
The incident came after the substitute teacher, who he said was conservative, spoke out against the ban on the graphic novel “The Fair Sex”.
A separate school board committee voted early last month to keep the book in the school library, along with another, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a reference guide for transgender and gender-expanding people. The books are in the library of Kelly Walsh High School.
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Some people in the school district – mainly the parent group – called the books “pornographic” for their depiction of sex.
After the committee made its decision, a group of parents and other community members came to the school board to speak against the decision. Since then, they have continued to come to meetings to discuss in favor of removing the books, while other members of the community have also appeared to speak in favor of keeping them.
If community members request an appeal of the committee’s decision, the school board itself will have to vote whether or not to keep the books. School district spokeswoman Tanya Sutherland said she was not aware of an appeal at this time.
At Monday’s meeting, the alternative teacher questioned the characterization of “gender” as “porn”.
“I don’t know what people are saying is porn about it,” he said, adding that he was “ashamed to say” that he watched real porn when he was “young.”
“We are talking about all the students, but we want to marginalize the students who are questioning them,” he continued.
Paulson took over the chair for public comment immediately thereafter.
“I just had a gay child talk to you who told us he was a substitute teacher,” Paulson told school board members.
The substitute teacher moved toward the front of the room, and asked loudly what Paulson had just shot. Trample him and Paulson a police officer. The officers have been in meetings since 2021.
Many in the public protested Paulson’s comments.
Paulson continued, “He’s told you outright that he wants young children to find out who they are now.”
“Officer, stop this!” The teacher said.
Catelier asked to remove the microphone while Paulson continued to call the teacher a “nanny.” Paulson then left the public comment table but was allowed to remain in the building.
“We don’t want that, but we can turn off public comment,” Catellier said.
Some asked the audience to stop the public comment, but it went on for another 45 minutes, mainly on the topic of books.
Paulson won 25% of the vote for the Ward 2 city council seat in the August primaries, second only to Michael Bond’s 29.5%. The two will compete head-to-head in the general election for the Ward 2 seat in November.
Paulson told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday that he “certainly did not mean the textbook definition” – or the legal definition – when he accused the substitute teacher of being a “pedophile.”
However, it seemed that what he meant was still cursed.
“From my personal point of view, the man raises children,” he said. “That term might be better, and maybe I should have used it.”
When Star-Tribune asked Paulson if he had any concerns that his use of the word “pedophile” in the public meeting could lead to the term being casually thrown around in the future, he replied that there was “cause for concern.”
“Here’s the thing, if you’re someone who advocates talking about gender identity behind parents’ backs, maybe we need to look at the textbook definition of child sexual abuse,” he said.
The substitute teacher did not say that he advocated talking about gender identity without informing the parents, but Paulson interpreted his remarks in this way.
Paulson’s accusation reflects the atmosphere in the increasingly controversial Natrona County School Board meetings. Police officers are now regularly assigned to public meetings, the last couple of which have seen a large crowd, with dozens of community members waiting in line to give enthusiastic public comment about the books. The topic came to Natrona County in December of last year, after a protest against books in Campbell County.
Southerland told the Star-Tribune that Monday’s meeting was the first event she can remember where a police officer had to actually intervene.