A Downside to a Small School District

Fremont County, Wyoming, has eight active school districts, twice as many as in any other Wyoming county. What’s more, it used to have, um, quite a few more than eight.

In Wyoming, the official name of a school district is “____ County School District #x,” even where the county has only one district, as some do. One of Fremont County’s districts has the official name, “Fremont County School District #38.” Obviously, at least 30 former school districts there no longer exist, having been absorbed by one or another of the eight that remain.

Since Fremont contains only about 10% of the state’s population, some of the districts have very small enrollment, which can become problematic in surprising ways.

(Ethete, Wyo.) – It was a numbers decision. In last Friday afternoon’s conference game against county rival Wind River, the Wyoming Indian Chiefs only suited up 14 players. One of those players was injured the game and didn’t return. With two games left in the schedule, the Chiefs simply ran out of players. Several of the team members were unavailable this week for this week’s game against Shoshoni, and the school decided to forfeit their last two games of the season, Friday night against Shoshoni and a week from Friday against Rocky Mountain.

Wyoming Indian High School serves Fremont County School District #14, based in the mostly Arapaho community of Ethete, north of Lander. It’s one of three school districts that mostly serve Wyoming’s only Indian reservation (which, contra TV’s “Longmire” and the books it’s loosely based on, is home to bands of Shoshone and Arapaho, not Cheyenne) and was until recently the only one of those three with an established conventional high school; students in the other districts could transfer to an adjacent district or attend a charter school if available.

I suppose some of WIHS’s previous success in at least fielding interscholastic sports teams may have been due to attendance from one or more adjacent districts that now have high schools of their own. The large number of districts in Fremont County has led to talk — almost none of it in Fremont County — of consolidating some of them.

One of the reasons why there are so many districts is that Fremont’s population is so widely scattered and so diverse, even on the reservation. The nearest other school district to Ethete is majority-Shoshone; the other majority-Arapaho district is far more remote. It’s a big reservation, otherwise the two tribes wouldn’t coexist as well as they do, and even then it’s not all incense and peppermints.

It’s sad to see these kids having to give up the rest of their season, and it’s possible maybe there will be more recruits next fall. But if not, I’m not sure what can be done to rescue the program unless the two majority-Arapaho districts, at least, join forces.

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