Tuesday, April 10, 2012

TUSD Meeting Tonight: Come for the Burritos, Stay For the Vote

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 at 5:28 PM

Just in case it didn't strike you as offensive when Tucson Unified School District governing board member Michael Hicks shared his concerns during a recent interview on The Daily Show that Mexican-American studies teachers feed their students burritos in order to create a strong bond (because, you know, that's the power burritos have over Mexican-Americans) ... well come on down tonight to the TUSD administration building at 1010 E. 10th St. and find out if it works on you.

A coalition of MAS supporters — AFSCME Local 449, Casa Maria, Citizens for Educational Excellence, Derechos Humanos, Fortin de las Flores, Las Adelitas Arizona, Save Ethnic Studies, Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), Tucson High MEChA, and U.N.I.D.O.S — are hosting a burrito taradeada at 6 p.m.

Hey, the burritos are free, and if you've ever questioned the power that MAS classes have had in changing students' lives, just one bite from these burritos is guaranteed to change your mind.

Oh, if only burritos were that magical. If they were, then surely, they'd be able to prevent tonight's expected firing of MAS program director and co-founder Sean Arce. The district gave Arce a nonrenewal notice — which, TUSD critics point out, is what happens when you speak out in support of your targeted program.

Arce is one of the 11 teacher plaintiffs who filed a federal lawsuit against the state last year in order to get the anti-Mexican-American studies law removed due to the fact that it's unconstitutional. Arce's daughter is also one of three high school plaintiffs that helped convince U.S. District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima that the lawsuit should remain in play since the students are being denied the classes.

Coincidentally, Arce was recently given the 2012 Myles Horton Award for Teaching People's History for Teaching People's History.

According to the Zinn Education Project, the award goes to educators and individuals who promote democracy through education in order to introduce students to a more accurate, complex and engaging understanding of U.S. history — the stuff you don't find in regular history and literature classes. (Those are the kind of classes that don't offer students burritos.)

In the Zinn Education Project press release, project co-director Bill Bigelow said:

“Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program gets it absolutely right: Ground the curriculum in students’ lives, teach about what matters in the world, respect students as intellectuals, and help students imagine themselves as promoters of justice. ... I’m thrilled that the Zinn Education Project is able to honor the work of Sean Arce by recognizing him with the first Myles Horton Award for Teaching People’s History. Mr. Arce has begun work that we hope will be emulated by school districts throughout the United States.”

Tonight's board meeting starts at 8 p.m. Arce's attorney, Richard Martinez, who is representing MAS students and teachers in the federal lawsuit, hand-delivered a letter to Hicks today at TUSD headquarters. You can read the entire letter here: Hicks_Ltr___04-10-2012.pdf

But here's a snippet:

Mr. Arce is being punished for having the courage to speak against the despicable politics of the Arizona Department of Education and the extremist agenda that has plagued our community. He alone in your administration has stood against the repeated lies that have been circulated with complete inpunity about the Mexican American Studies program, lies that you so willingly repeated last week to our entire nation. That the Governing Board has succumed to the fear and intimidation created by Mr. Huppenthal is a disservice to our entire community.

The Arizona Daily Star reported Pedicone offered Arce an assistant principal position, and that the MAS program director declined the job. However, The Range was told that's not exactly how it went down. Arce would need a majority vote from the TUSD governing board to get offered the assistant principal position, and it was explained that it wasn't clear that the votes were there for the job.

While Arce is certain to be fired tonight, the other co-founder of the MAS program, Augustine Romero, was reportedly offered a position that some in the community aren't happy he's seriously considering. A vote reportedly took place during executive session at last week's TUSD governing board special meeting, on Tuesday, April 3, — a meeting that was held almost entirely in executive session.

Romero, now working as director of the district's student equity department, was supposedly offered the position to direct a multicultural curriculum department. When the Weekly interviewed TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone to reflect on his first year on the job, he confirmed the district was looking at developing a multicultural curriculum, and told us folks in the University of Arizona's College of Education were going to help.

We were told by another source that the UA was approached for help, but that folks in the college said they wouldn't do it if the district moved to end MAS.

Most supporters of MAS aren't supporters of a multicultural curriculum, which they say would only offer a watered-down version of history and focus on cultural details like holidays and foods. Plus, it isn't what folks fought so hard for when the MAS classes were created in order to create a more equitable system for Latino students—who make up 62 percent of the district, and at some schools are more than 95 percent of the student population.

The Range e-mailed Romero for comment. He replied:

"I have not accepted any position yet. There are a lot of people from all over the country encouraging me to take the position, and a few locals who do not believe I should take the position. At the end to the day my decision will come down to two things: 1) taking care of my family; and 2) what is in the best interest of the children and community we serve. I hope this answers your question."

Romero added later:

"Mari it is important to note that I have received many many more calls from people in the community who want me to take the position, as well as many many peep from throughout the country and community who believe that I need to be their to hold the district accountable."

Someone, fast—ship those magic burritos to Judge Tashima.

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