House Committee unanimously supports purple star schools bill

Jan. 24—CHEYENNE — Wyoming is one step closer to establishing purple star schools, which are recognized for their commitment to assist military-connected students.

The House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to send House Bill 56 to the chamber floor for first reading.

It provides for the designation of schools to support students, such as having a military liaison and offering professional development for staff members on military-connected student issues, and lays out requirements to become a purple star school if a school district or public school is interested.

"So, when we get our new missiles here in the southeastern part of the state, we can show the Department of Defense that Wyoming truly does care about its service members," said bill sponsor Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, "as well as anybody else that's going to be coming here to support that area."

HB 56 doesn't require schools to become purple-star certified, but it does give them the leeway to partner with school districts to comply with requirements. Schools must maintain an easily accessible page on their website for military-connected students and their families, or provide professional development, and they can be supported district-wide if they don't have the individual resources.

Besides requirements such as establishing a liaison or transition program, they must take part in at least one of three options.

Schools can have a resolution adopted by their board of trustees to show support for students with a military background; provide recognition of the Month of the Military Child or Military Family Month with events; or partner with a local military installation for service members to volunteer and host field trips.

"Our school allows us to show our appreciation for our military families and their students, and make sure that we're providing every tool in our belt possible to make sure that they have a smooth and easy transition into our community," Brown said.

Brown was joined in support of the proposal by Wyoming Department of Education officials, retired veterans, former military-connected students and fellow Cheyenne Rep. Bill Henderson.

WDE Chief Policy Officer Wanda Maloney said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder was extremely supportive of the bill and the work schools take on to help students transition into a new community. The department is also capable of standing up the purple star program, and they've already started a pilot application process for schools.

Freedom Elementary and McCormick Junior High School in Cheyenne were both approved, and were designated as purple star schools. They will be able to launch statewide and plan to have a celebration in the Capitol rotunda.

"Myself being a military child, I believe that if this program was in place in the schools that I had been moved to, I think it would have just made my transition a little bit easier," said Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce Vice President Amber Leyba. "Kids are resilient, but, at the same time, it's scary. It's very scary being transplanted from one community to the next, not knowing anybody in your school."

Jasmine Hall is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's state government reporter. She can be reached by email at jhall@wyomingnews.com or by phone at 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter @jasminerhphotos and on Instagram @jhrose25.