It took most of the evening for the Tucson Unified School District to get to the business that brought several hundred people to the district’s administration building, filling the board room while a crowd stood outside listening to the meeting broadcast on speakers.
It was board member Michael Hicks who brought the resolution before the board to suspend the Mexican American studies classes in order to comply with the state’s anti-ethnic studies law and state Superintendent John Huppenthal’s recent ruling that the classes are illegal, threatening to withhold more than $14 million in state aide.
New board member Alexandre Sugiyama seconded Hicks’ motion, later explaining it was a difficult vote, but the district had to comply with state law. To most of the audience in the board room, his remarks only reminded everyone more about the severe loss the district experience with the death of board member Judy Burns, whose seat Sugiyama was recently appointed.
Burns was a champion of the Mexican American studies classes. During her memorial at Tucson High School, Chicano literature teacher Curtis Acosta spoke and painted a picture of a Burns he considered a friend and a “Chicana warrior,” when it came to all TUSD students and the fight for ethnic studies. Burns had said she saw first-hand the good the MAS program does for all students, when her own son took Acosta’s literature classes and helped her son get through school.
While most expected a yes vote from board president Mark Stegeman and Hicks, as well as Sugiyama based on comments he made when he helped Stegeman return to the president position at the last board meeting, what was once considered a possible swing vote was Miguel Cuevas. Although after the meeting, the general agreement was that his vote of yes was ultimately no surprise.
Yet while he read his statement to explain why he would vote yes, many in the audience got up to leave knowing exactly where the vote would go. Others began shouting. Stegeman called for a brief recess, but when they returned that didn’t keep people from continuing to let the board know that hearts were breaking across the room as they voted to suspend the classes.
Earlier, the board listened to dozens of community activists, teachers, professors, out-of-town advocates, parents, students and even a few politicians — all in overwhelming favor of the district’s Mexican-American studies classes. The TUSD board voted 4-1 in support of suspending the program rather than challenging the law, with Adelita Grijalva voting no.
Call to the audience began with UA College of Education assistant professor Nolan Cabrera, who was one of the first to defend the program with his analysis that showed the classes not only increase graduation rates and keep students engaged in school, it also helps in other classes, like math.
Cabrera reminded the board that from his own professional perspective they needed to keep in mind that the administrative judge was relying on information from state witnesses without education and ethnic studies experience.
UA Mexican American Studies assistant professor Roberto Rodriguez also spoke in favor of the program, as well as Chicano rights activist and retired UA professor Salomón Baldenegro Sr., who provided a quick history lesson to the board reminding them that the district supposedly got into this mess because of labor rights activist Delores Huerta’s speech at Tucson Magnet High School and her comment that Republicans hate Latinos.
Baldenegro remarked that with the legislation we’ve seen taken place since her speech, such as SB 1070 and HB 2281, that the GOP set out to prove she was right.
Cecelia Cruz, Baldenegro’s wife and also a longtime Chicano rights activist, recalled her childhood growing up watching her mother and father take on the mines and strike. She was taught, by their example, do to the right thing.
“Stand up for something, like I was taught to do,” she asked them.
Tucson attorney and activist Isabel Garcia, a member of the Mexican American Studies community advisory board, condemned the decision to once again hold important meetings in the small board room rather than choosing a larger venue that would allow the entire community to enter.
“You continue to treat us like enemies,” she said, explaining how water was taken away from folks who came in and everyone wanded by police at the front door.
You need to realize, she said, that these are people who care deeply about education and their children. Like, Cabrera, Garcia also questioned how the TUSD private law firm, DeConcini McDonald Yetwin and Lacy, handled the administrative court proceedings.
During those proceedings, where board members Stegeman and Hicks were allowed to be hostile witnesses to their own district, the district’s attorneys offered no cross-examination and they did not in-turn call Grijalva or Burns to be pro-ethnic studies witnesses, Garcia said.
State Rep. Sally Gonzales flew in from Phoenix to speak at the board meeting, recalling her time as a TUSD educator and witnessing the discrimination that took place, especially to Mexican-American and Pascua Yaqui children. She also explained why she ran for office was because of the vote taking place — she ran to defend ethnic studies and education, and she urged them to do the same.
State Rep. Matt Heinz was also there, waiting patiently for a turn to speak to the board. He reminded them that as a physician he has a certain responsibility to avoid malpractice by looking at medical evidence that helped him know what steps to take. A vote to suspend the program, he said, would be “educational malpractice.”
Desegregation and school equality activist Sylvia Campoy spoke to the Range yesterday about speaking to the board to remind them of their duties to uphold the district’s Post Unitary Status Plan. Here’s her full statement that she shared with us prior to the meeting:
January 10, 2012
Good evening Governing Board Members. I am Sylvia Campoy- my history with TUSD includes that of student, teacher, parent, first civil rights compliance officer, first Latina governing board member, member of the Desegregation Independent Citizen’s Committee- and currently a Mendoza Plaintiff’s Representative; a history of some 56 years. I address you about TUSD’s Desegregation Federal Court Orders and the Mexican American Studies Program in an effort to respectfully notify you of your mandated obligations prior to any consideration of further adverse action pertaining to Mexican American Studies. As you are aware, the Post Unitary Status Plan was approved by the Governing Board on July 30, 2009 and adopted by Court Order on December 17, 2009.
On September 13, 2011 the Court ordered that the Post Unitary Plan remain in place until a Unitary Plan is developed. Clearly, the Post Unitary Plan has been included in several Court Orders issued to the District. The Plan includes the Mexican American Studies Program and commits to the expansion of the Program at all levels. Contrary to any expansion of the Program, the District has imposed actions to diminish the Program; such as prohibiting its teachers from recruiting students via administrative edicts. Plans to drastically modify or eradicate the Program have been surfaced at the Board level, yet no public hearings have taken place, as stipulated by the Court Adopted Plan. The District is once again under a Desegregation Court Order and all pertinent modifications must be approved by the Court- and now the Special Master. No such programmatic changes have been presented to the Court.
The District has failed to expand the program and has intentionally decreased its enrollment. Yet, there is Board criticism that the Program only serves a fraction of the student population. If the District had complied with the Court Adopted Post Unitary Plan and expanded the Mexican American Studies Program—the Program’s enrollment would have increased significantly. More than two and a half years have been lost in moving the Program forward. While Mexican American Studies offerings are available to students of all ethnicities and races, the Department was formed specifically to enhance the academic success of Latino students.
One of the primary objectives of the Program is to support the District in eliminating the disparity between Latino students and their non-minority counterparts in areas such as achievement and graduation rates. As such, there is more than ample educational and legal justification for the Program and its targeted focus on Latino students especially in light of the fact that TUSD has been and continues to be under a Desegregation Order. The fact that the Program has been intentionally hampered instead of expanded is damaging to all students but particularly harmful to 61% of the TUSD student population- Latino students. The January 5, 2012 Court Order in which Special Master Willis Hawley is appointed states, in part, that “…. until such time as the Unitary Status Plan has been approved by the Court, the Special Master shall consider and report any act or policy of the District that any Plaintiff contends will deprive any student of equal protection of the law whether by intentional segregation or discrimination based on a student’s race or ethnic group.”
It is not at all clear that equal protection and social justice have been factored into any articulated plans that are being put forward by Board Members. I implore you to comply in good faith with the Federal Court Orders and to inform the State of the District’s obligations in this regard. The obligations begin and end with what is JUST; what is right for students.
After one speaker passionately admonished the board, Stegeman took a moment to remind the audience to stop saying mean things to board members. Outside, Rep. Gonzales reminded those near her that that is part of being an elected official. Later, Grijalva reminded Stegeman during the meeting the same thing — “if comments are factual .. you have to take it.”
Stegeman also missed the point of Garcia’s comments on he and Hicks having to testify, explaining that they were forced to through a subpoena. Countering a student’s remark that the people on the dais who were making the decision were folks who came from privilege, Hicks said, “I am not a white privileged man.”
Earlier in the evening, while board members were in executive session, a rumor began to surface that U.S. District Court Judge Wallace Tashima’s expected ruling was out and that it did not bode well for ethnic studies.
In line, while waiting to get into the crowded board room before the vote took place, Tucson attorney Richard Martinez allayed those rumors. Yes, Tashima’s ruling came in, but no, the case is still in motion.
Martinez, who filed the federal lawsuit against the state in 2010, went before Tashima last month to address state Attorney General Tom Horne’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Horne is now representing Huppenthal because the state ran out of funds to continue paying for a private a attorney that was handling the federal lawsuit and the administrative court proceedings. Tashima was also asked to grant Martinez a preliminary injunction to prevent the state and TUSD from shutting down the program.
Tashima denied Horne’s motion to dismiss, and he denied Martinez’ request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the classes from being suspended. While Tashima also denied allowing the teachers to be part of the lawsuit based on their First Amendment rights, he did accept that the two students, Maya Arce and Korina Eliza Lopez, added to the suit shortly after Martinez first filed, could move forward in their complaint against the state that the law is unconstitutional.
The federal case goes on. Future change was also evident last night. Teacher Kristel Foster announced her campaign to run for school board. She and several friends were collecting signatures outside during the meeting.
Miguel Ortega, who ran, but lost the last school board election, has said he will run again. Both applied for Judy Burns’ seat through the Pima County Schools Superintendent’s office process that looked at 54 applications total.
There are three positions open this election season on the TUSD governing board. Guess who else is up for reelection? Pima County Schools Superintendent Linda Arzoumanian.
Here are several Tashima highlights:
“Even assuming that Plaintiff teachers could establish standing based solely on allegations of “subjective chill,” Plaintiff teachers have failed to demonstrate that they have a protected First Amendment right to speak within the classroom.
In essence, Plaintiffs seem to be arguing that § 15-112 makes it more difficult for any Latino to influence the content of curricula in Arizona by removing control over ethnic studies programs from local governing boards. However, simply to argue that Plaintiff teachers, as members of the larger Latino community, have less power to influence ethnic studies curricula than they had before the passage of § 15-112 does not demonstrate that Plaintiff teachers are suffering a “concrete and particularized” injury in fact which affects them in a personal and individualized way. … In other words, Plaintiff teachers have not demonstrated the concrete injury they suffer as a result of being unable to influence curricula at a local level, especially considering the established principle that “school teachers have no First Amendment right to influence curriculum as they so choose.”
“Plaintiffs have recently filed a copy of the course selections made by Plaintiff Korina Lopez for the Fall 2012 semester, which includes two MAS classes. … This document sufficiently refutes Defendant’s argument that Ms. Lopez is not ready and able to sign up for MAS classes. As a result, Ms. Lopez has established a concrete and non-speculative injury sufficient to establish standing. Ms. Lopez also has standing to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds. Her arguments are sufficiently similar to those presented in Johnson v. Stuart. Because Ms. Lopez has standing, the Court need not decide whether Plaintiff student Arce, who has not yet enrolled in MAS classes, but intends to do so in the future, has standing. … (presence of one plaintiff with standing sufficient to assure the existence of a justiciable controversy).”
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