Superintendent of Public Instruction Candidate Sergio Maldonado Shares Opinions about Trending Educational Issues

The Democratic nominee expresses views on book banning, critical race theory, a controversial USDA school policy and more (Part 2)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Political divisions have seeped into the education system in the United States, including in the Cowboy State.

In August, Sergio Maldonado, Sr., became the Democratic nominee for Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction. He will face Republican nominee Megan Degenfelder in the general election on Nov. 8.

Maldonado is the first person of Northern Arapaho and Mexican descent to run for this office.  A resident of the Wind River Reservation, he has taught in classrooms for 23 years and previously served as the tribal liaison for the Northern Arapaho Tribe for Wyoming’s Office of the Governor and on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.

The Wyoming Truth spoke with Maldonado about his candidacy and stances on trending education issues, such as book banning and critical race theory. The first part of the interview ran as the Friday Focus last week. What follows are excerpts from the second half of the interview.

How should Wyoming respond if a parent disagrees with a book that’s being taught as part of the curriculum?  

Democrat Sergio Maldonado, Sr., who is running for Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction, sits outside the Herschler Building in Cheyenne. He describes the state office as “a calling.”  (Wyoming Truth photo by Shen Wu Tan)

Maldonado: “Parents need to speak up. But here’s the other thing. Book banning has happened in America and around the world since the beginning of time…We shouldn’t be burning books. We can make books available to students at a K-12 level, and I’ve used this phrase already, age-grade appropriate with a collective body of academics, teachers who will make those kinds of choices. They [students] can read those books when they get out of high school or in college.  

If they don’t have it [a book] at the school, that’s fine. That child can go to the…county library and check it out over there.” 

Should critical race theory be taught in Wyoming schools?  

Maldonado: “You can learn about it in college…Critical race theory is expressing the true history too often, not from the victor’s side, but from the victim’s side. Well, it doesn’t matter. . . Why bring it up as a controversial issue here in school? Let your curriculum development specialist, along with a cadre of teachers and principals, determine which books are good for you. At a K-12 level, because parental input is so a part of our public schools…put it [critical race theory] on the back burner. They [students] can read it after they get out of high school. Or if they want to read it, that’s on their own time.”

The current superintendent, Brian Schroeder, opposed a USDA policy that mandated schools to allow students to file complaints of discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity. What are your thoughts about this move?

Maldonado: “I know Mr. Schroeder. I think a lot of people, him included…like to think that we have good intentions. But too often, when we put our intentions out as they are articulated, they’re not articulated in a manner that is in sync with our intentions. Everybody has good intentions, or I like to think so…But when you put it out there and you’re a public person, pick and choose your words ever so carefully because those will come back to haunt you. 

“The USDA policy, with respect to providing food to schools, you know, states across this country accept USDA foods and services…Why should we not accept it? We’ve got children who come to school, and I know on my reservation and our district, they come in, they’re hungry. We have a whole lot of schools across this state who have a significant number of their children who are eligible for free and reduced lunches…So if the feds and the government want to help out, wonderful. If we are in compliance with that policy and procedure and in alignment with what the USDA will provide, do what is necessary…A hungry child does not learn.”

During the budget session earlier this year, the Wyoming Senate passed a bill that would have banned transgender student athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports. However, the bill didn’t advance because it wasn’t introduced in the Wyoming House of Representatives. What do you think of this measure?  

Maldonado: “I have family members who are members of the LGBTQ community, and I support them… Who am I to say that they can do this and cannot do that? I believe that at a fundamental level, and I’m choosing my words ever so carefully, that people’s rights become politicized, and they are not afforded a full level of freedom as human beings.

“Transgender, now we are talking a full-blown another topic…I have no response for that. I don’t think I’m in a position, I don’t have a magic wand, I don’t have a halo above my head to render an opinion that will separate me and if not, stigmatize me, as an up-and-coming Superintendent of Public Instruction. I said earlier that the unfortunate piece in today’s society is that one’s identity has become politicized to their detriment.”

Do you feel the state government needs more diversity?

Maldonado: “To my knowledge, from talking to a lot of people, I am the first Northern Arapaho-Hispanic man to ever run for this position. I’m not doing it because I’m the first. I’m doing it because I now see it as a calling. It’s a divine intervention, if I may be so bold, and I’ll just give it my best for the benefit of all students, all people. And yes, it will change the whole history of the state of Wyoming to be a man of color representing diversity in [one of] the top five elected positions working with Gov. Gordon. It’s an honor. It’s humbling.

“I’m not doing this to bring about a greater level of diversity. I’m doing it because this is what I must do. This is the moral imperative for me. Do what is right. I just happen to be mixed blood: Northern Arapaho, Mexican living on a reservation.”

Is there anything else about your candidacy or background that you would like voters to know?

Maldonado: “I enjoy reading. I often joke with my friends. I say, ‘You know, if I didn’t have to work, I could just stay home and read all day.’ But you can’t do that. I like animals. I’ve got four cats and three dogs. I want to paint again with acrylics…I haven’t picked up a brush in many, many years.

“I’ve been a part of our lodge ways, our Arapaho ceremonial ways for the past 42 years…I’ve been a participant in our lodge ways. But at the same time, I espouse, embrace Christianity. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

“I’m willing to listen to people, to engage with people. But I always come away with the same message: life is good, but life is work. People have to be willing to take a greater level of responsibility for their own scenario. Gone are the days we can blame our condition on somebody else. We’ve all been blessed. I just want to be supportive of people to the best of my abilities.”

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