Natrona School Board Interviews: Porambo and Studer
This is the third article in a series of interviews on the 15 candidates running for the Natrona County School District board of trustees.
Joseph Porambo, who has been a restaurant manager for a few decades and is a grandfather of two kids that have recently entered public school, said he's worried about the safety of students and the curriculum being taught.
On the safety side of things, Porambo said he believes that any teacher that wants to should be armed in order to better protect students.
"As far as the safety end of it, I would work closer with the sheriff's department and the police department, which I've already met on a few occasions with the sheriff to talk about the safety issues...I have some specific concerns on a, the safety of the schools," Porambo said. "I think the legislature has given the districts the power to teachers that are willing, arm our teachers, that are willing. I do know that there are a lot of obstacles to that and that was part of my conversation with the sheriff. But I do believe that every obstacle that is there is overcomable. Without getting into details of the plan that I have because that could take a while to go through, but I definitely have a plan that would not only secure the safety of our students but to secure the safety of our teachers and administrators within the school building...the teachers want to, we're not gonna make a teacher carry a weapon. But the teacher that wants to would have to go through a gun safety and gun use class very similar to what our police department and what our sheriff's department goes through."
On the curriculum side, Porambo said he has issues with how the district approaches the curriculum and wishes there was more options for students that want learn trade skills.
"As far as the curriculum, we need to involve the public as a whole and the teachers more in the designing of the curriculum instead of relying strictly on the curriculum that is fed to us from the Department of Education and other federal entities," Porambo said. "I think we need to look a little bit more into our trade schools a lot of students aren't good with the bookwork, but they're great with their hands or they have a very strong mechanical ability. I think we need to start looking at that for those kids that don't have the book but they do have that mechanical ability."
Porambo said he's against the concept of critical race theory because it divides society, though he hasn't read any books on critical race theory but has done research online by looking at curriculums that he says are designed around it.
"I see this board leaning in a direction to institute it, but not institute it on a full basis. My research of CRT, I think it is a bad thing for Wyoming schools, for Natrona schools," Porambo said. "And I think it's something we need to avoid, not try to tweak it to something that is palatable. I think our level of commitment to our students is not just to make it palatable...I think it basically paints the picture of a society if you are a different color or a different creed or a different religion of those that are in power, you're the problem, and they're not the problem. It's not the Anglo-Saxon Americans the ones of white descent that are the problem. I think we've come so far over the years don't the racial issue and the fair treatment of everybody. Do we still have a ways to go? Yeah, we always will. But I think we've come so far, to bring that back in, and to blame one group of people for all the problems we have in the United States is wrong...If it's accurate history-wise, I think it's important to be included but under the banner of all one group is bad, all one group is good, reason one group is bad is because the other group is bad, I just have some issues with that. I can't give you anything specific, I really can't. It's just what things that I've heard. Talked to school board members outside of the school board meetings."
Critical race theory is an academic theory that started in the 1970s and talks about how race has impacted various legal, political, and social structures in the U.S.
Porambo said he was against how the district handled COVID-19 and against any form of virtual learning, but is against taking the two books, Gender Queer and Trans Bodies and Trans Selves, out of school libraries, after just starting to read them.
"I think that we did a big injustice to our students by, even though we didn't go online, didn't go remote, I think that decisions on masking and other things, I think those were decisions that should have been left up to the parents," Porambo said. "I work in retail management and I chose up until my job required it, I chose not to. I'm an older gentleman and the choice worked out well for me. And I had some real issues with requiring face masking...I would have voted to keep our schools open. And I would have voted that masking was at the option of the parents. I agree what appears is going to be the decision of the board. I'm very much against book banning and I feel that the decision by the committee that was told that those two books, that decision was correct and that we're not talking about putting these books in elementary schools, we're talking about in high schools. We're not talking about including it in our curriculum, we're talking about making the information available to our students and if a parent doesn't want their student to read that book, parents have the option to go to the librarian and say I don't want my child having this book."
Bernie Studer, who was born in Wyoming and retired in 2016 after working for a utility company in Fort Collins, Colorado, said he doesn't like lies that are being told to kids and wants the school board to give the right tools to students and teachers.
"We're scaring kids, at least in the last 30 years, we're scaring them. The earth's gonna end tomorrow basically," Studer said. "I don't know, what do we have, 12 minutes left? I can't keep up with the schedule, but so we're scaring them, we're lying to them about things. The lies prevent them from being prepared for the real world...we've got to stop it and get the kids involved in discussions about things and let them come up with evidence of what they believe and let them discuss it among themselves and they can ask us for help if they need to, that's great, we'll get it for them and that's one of the primary duties of the school board is to make sure the students have the tools and that the teachers have tools, and the administration has the proper tools...I don't know that that's happening in Natrona County, but that appears to be a trend. Basically, it's not a direct lie, it's just they do things and say things that might make students feel that 'this is the real world out there.' They get out of school and they go to an employer, it's not gonna be, they've got it made in schools, it's a little more difficult out in the real world, and that's what I'm concerned about."
Studer said he's been to three school board meetings and isn't too sure how the board operates but wants to be on it to advocate for the public and is open to talking to anyone about anything.
"I have my personal email on my banner and on the little stickers that I hand out. I'm open to discussion, anything, anybody," Studer said. "They can ask me a question, they can tell me I'm out of bounds, whatever. As long as we're civil, I'll come, I'm available...I just felt a duty, to get involved, even if all I can give is speak up at the meetings or just talk to people and bring their concerns to light to the school board that's fine with me. Bottom line is, I want to be the public's advocate."
Studer said that people were overreacting to COVID-19 and he was surprised to see a similar sentiment in Oregon in Wyoming and that he's against having the two books in schools.
"On a national basis I think everybody overreacted. I was in Oregon when it started happening, and it kind of followed me to Wyoming," Studer said. "I was surprised how quick everything was locked down...I do think that the books should be restricted and if people are interested, and parents need to get involved with their child. Their child should be able to come to their parents and ask them questions and I realize sometimes the situation doesn't allow that, the child that's their personal thing, I'm going to keep to myself, I talk to my friends, or here's a book I'm gonna read, I think they should have guidance, no criticism, just help them out."