Casper City Council candidate Eric Paulson accused a substitute teacher of being a “pedophile” at the Natrona County school board meeting on Monday after the teacher argued in favor of the Kelly Walsh High School library keeping a book that explores gender identity and sexuality.
Midway through Paulson’s comments, school board Chairman Ray Catellier asked for Paulson’s microphone to be cut as the council hopeful continued to make accusations against the teacher.
The incident came after the substitute teacher, who said he was a conservative, spoke against banning the graphic novel “Gender Queer.”
A committee separate from the school board voted early last month to keep the book at the school library, along with another, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a resource guide for people who are transgender and gender-expansive. The books are at the Kelly Walsh High School library.
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Some people in the school district — primarily a group of parents — have called the books “pornographic” for their depictions of sexuality.
After the committee made its decision, the group of parents and other community members came to the school board to speak against it. Since then, they’ve continued coming to meetings to argue in favor of removing the books, while other community members have also showed up to speak in favor of keeping them.
If community members ask for an appeal of the committee’s decision, the school board itself would then have to vote on whether or not to keep the books. The school district’s spokesperson, Tanya Southerland, said that she isn’t aware of there being an appeal right now.
At the meeting on Monday, the substitute teacher questioned the characterization of “Gender Queer” as “pornographic.”
“I don’t know what people are saying is pornographic about it,” he said, adding that he was “ashamed to say” he had seen real pornography when he was a “young man.”
“We talk about all of the students, but we want to marginalize students that are questioning,” he continued.
Paulson took the chair for public comment immediately after.
“You literally just had a pedophile come and talk to you who told us he’s a substitute teacher,” Paulson told the school board members.
The substitute teacher moved toward the front of the room, asking with a raised voice what Paulson had just called him. A police officer stepped between him and Paulson. Officers have been at meetings since 2021.
Several people in the audience protested Paulson’s statements.
“He just openly told you that he wants younger children discovering who they are right now,” Paulson continued.
“Officer, stop this!” the teacher said.
Catellier asked that the microphone be removed as Paulson continued to call the teacher a “groomer.” Paulson then left the public comment table but was allowed to stay in the building.
“We don’t want to, but we can stop the public comment,” Catellier said.
Some in the audience asked that the public comment stop, but it continued for about another 45 minutes, primarily on the topic of the books.
Paulson won 25% of the vote for the Ward 2 city council seat in the August primaries, second to Michael Bond’s 29.5%. The two will go head-to-head in the general election for the Ward 2 seat in November.
Paulson told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday that he “definitely didn’t mean the textbook definition” — or the legal definition — when he accused the substitute teacher of being a “pedophile.”
What he did mean, however, seems to still be damning.
“From my personal opinion, the guy’s grooming children,” he said. “That may be a better term, maybe that’s the one I should have used.”
When the Star-Tribune asked Paulson if he had any concerns that his use of the word “pedophile” at the public meeting could result in the term being casually thrown around in the future, he responded saying that there is “cause for concerns.”
“Here’s the thing, if you’re somebody who advocates for talking about sexual identity behind the parents’ back, maybe we need to look at what the textbook definition of pedophile is,” he said.
The substitute teacher didn’t say he advocated for talking about sexual identity without informing parents, but Paulson interpreted his statements that way.
Paulson’s accusation reflects a climate in Natrona County’s school board meetings that has become increasingly contentious; police officers are now regularly staffed at the public meetings, the last couple of which have seen a packed audience, with dozens of community members waiting in line to give passionate public comment about the books. The topic came to Natrona County in December of last year, following an outcry over books in Campbell County.
Southerland told the Star-Tribune that Monday’s meeting was the first occurrence she could recall where a police officer had to actually intervene.