Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Aug. 12

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on the latest block to Wyoming’s abortion ban, Teton County Schools’ housing challenges and a new survey about local wildfire risk.
Abortion-rights advocates at the Jackson Town Square
Abortion-rights advocates rally at the Jackson Town Square on June 24, 2022. A Teton County judge granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday that will continue to block Wyoming’s new ban on most abortions from going into effect while a lawsuit over its constitutionality plays out. (Emily Cohen/KHOL)

 

Wyoming abortion ban blocked while lawsuit proceeds

Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday that will continue to block Wyoming’s ban on most abortions from going into effect. The order is expected to stand until the final merits of the case are resolved–a process that Owens said during a hearing Tuesday could take about a year.

The judge appeared to side with plaintiff arguments that the court could find that the state constitution grants Wyoming citizens the right to make their own health care decisions, according to WyoFile.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit fighting the abortion ban requested a preliminary injunction last week, and Owens heard about two and a half hours of arguments both for and against the motion Tuesday. Lawyers for the plaintiffs–who include individuals, abortion providers and the state’s largest abortion fund–argued that the ban infringes on fundamental rights guaranteed by the Wyoming Constituion, including the rights to privacy, property, equality, to make medical decisions and be left alone by the government. 

A lawyer for the state countered that the right to have an abortion is not fundamental and not deeply rooted in the country’s history. The state is also arguing that the legislature–and not patients–has the right to determine what medical procedures should be legal in the state. Judge Owens appeared to have the most concerns about three exceptions included in the new law for rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother, which she said appeared to be vague and include no guidance for how they should be enforced.

Teton County School District to participate in pilot teacher apprenticeship program

The Teton County School District was announced earlier this summer as one of three districts from across the state that will participate in a new pilot Wyoming Teacher Apprenticeship Initiative. While the program is still in development, Superintendent Gillian Chapman said it will offer an alternative path for interested candidates to get their teaching credentials, with a focus on existing paraeducators and substitute teachers.

“I do see it as a wonderful way to get especially hard-to-fill positions that we currently have [open filled], to talk to our current employees and say, ‘Hey, here’s an opportunity. And if student teaching is your barrier or if taking some of the teacher education preparation courses are your barrier, here’s a pathway for you,’” Chapman said.

Still, Chapman cautioned that the program won’t be a silver bullet in the face of the nationwide struggle to recruit and retain teachers and the extreme local challenge of housing them. Teton County Schools lost a total of 68 employees at the end of the last school year–most of them, Chapman said, because they couldn’t afford or couldn’t find a reliable place to live.

“Only eight of those were retirements, and so the majority were due to the void of stable, attainable and affordable housing,” she said.

That’s why the district is requesting $16 million in voter-approved Specific Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) funding for employee housing in the November election. A second district SPET ballot request will ask for $16.5 million to partially fund the proposed Bronc Achievement Center at the high school, which would free up more classroom space inside the main building and add new athletic facilities. 

Chapman said both requests are important for the district to maintain its high state and national rankings.

“I’m really proud of our board for developing these long-range strategic plans and looking at housing and looking at our facilities and recognizing that the recruitment and the retention of staff and housing, and space and facilities, are critical for us to maintain and be No. 1.”

Looking toward the coming school year, Chapman said the district has filled all but one of its needed licensed positions but that bus drivers and substitute teachers are still sorely needed. More information about how to apply is available on the school district’s website.

Local homeowners underestimate wildfire risk

New results from a survey conducted last year indicate that local residents’ perceptions of wildfire risk differ greatly from the opinions of wildfire professionals. Robb Sgroi is land resources specialist for the Teton Conservation District and a member of the Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition (TAWPC), which collaborated with the Wildfire Research Center on the survey.

“I think 89% of what practitioners found was that homes were [at] high, very high or extreme risk, whereas homeowners only noted about 41% in those three categories,” Sgroi said. “So, there was a disconnect between what practitioners were observing and what homeowners were reporting to us.”

The survey also found that 70% of homes have combustible material within five feet of the building–an area where Sgroi said homeowners can make small changes for a big impact.

“We all have some level of risk, and it is worth each and every homeowner [and] resident taking time to learn a little bit more about what factors are in their control and reaching out for more intensive support if they feel like it’s a little overwhelming.”

Some of those resources can be found at tawpc.org. The Teton Conservation District also offers no-cost wildfire risk overviews for residential properties. 

Overall, the biggest mistake Sgroi said homeowners can make is to think wildfires don’t pose a risk just because they’re infrequent.

Local registration for monkeypox vaccine now available

Registration for the monkeypox vaccine is now available through the Teton County Health Department. While the virus can affect anyone regardless of identity, the department is currently prioritizing vaccinations for men who have sex with men and who have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the past year, sex workers of any gender and anyone who has been in close contact with someone who tested positive for monkeypox or who is experiencing symptoms.

The vaccine is approved for individuals aged 18 and older.

Old Bill’s giving season kicks off in Jackson Hole

Friday, Aug. 12, marks the start of Old Bill’s giving season in Jackson Hole–one of the most important fundraising periods for local nonprofits, including KHOL!

Please consider donating to Jackson Hole Community Radio through Old Bill’s Fun Run if you value our independent news coverage and eclectic mix of music and cultural programming. Thank you!

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About Kyle Mackie

Kyle is a multimedia journalist who joined KHOL as news director in January 2021. Prior to moving West, she reported on education, immigration, racial justice and more for WBFO, the NPR affiliate in Buffalo, NY. With a background in international reporting, Kyle has also worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the Western Balkans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and geography from The George Washington University and master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York. When not out reporting, Kyle can usually be found trail running, climbing, skiing or grooving to live music.

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