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A Community Divided 

The latest casuality in the battle over TUSD's Mexican-American Studies program: family relationships and friendships

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While waiting on Tashima, former MAS teachers are being closely monitored by the district and the state.

For example, on April 19, word went out that representatives from the state Department of Education were inspecting former MAS classrooms to make sure all of the textbooks and other teaching aids that were determined to be against the law had been removed. The first classroom inspected that day was that of Chicano literature teacher Curtis Acosta at Tucson High Magnet School.

Acosta says the inspections were done without warning, although teachers knew they were coming. He says two people walked into his classroom one morning while he was in the middle of a lesson. He asked for their business cards, but only one of them complied—John Balentine, the state Department of Education's social studies standards director.

Balentine and the other inspector spent about 10 minutes flipping through books on the shelves and examining posters before leaving.

Acosta says the timing of the inspection was interesting, because it came during AIMS testing—"a time when we least expected it."

When Arce's contract wasn't approved, and the teachers discovered Romero was in discussions with the district about the multicultural position, Acosta says the teachers made plans for a press conference and to write an open letter to the community. The press conference never happened; Acosta says the timing seemed off. Then he threw himself into planning a visit by author Ana Castillo, who has several titles on the list of books banned from the former MAS classrooms.

Castillo wanted to visit Acosta's classroom and invite media to document the visit. Acosta says that Abel Morado, TUSD assistant superintendent for high schools, denied the media request.

TUSD communications director Cara Rene said Castillo was welcome, but the media presence would have been disruptive.

As this issue of the Weekly goes to press, Castillo will be in town meeting students and other Tucsonans at several public events and readings.

Acosta says Castillo's visit has been a good distraction. He also shared the letter written in response to the decision not to renew Arce's contract and to the proposed multicultural curriculum. In it, the teachers describe Arce as innovative, courageous and dynamic.

"It is evident that the removal of Mr. Arce was motivated by TUSD's continued enforcement of ARS 15-112 (formally HB 2281) and compliance with the political agendas of Attorney General Tom Horne and State Superintendent John Huppenthal. Mr. Arce's courage to fight for the educational rights of our students made him a target for retaliation by district leadership and the Hicks majority. There was no credible reason for his removal, as the position of Mexican-American studies director has not been eliminated," they wrote.

Addressing the multicultural curriculum that would replace MAS, the letter says, "Building a new department at the cost of MAS is placating and premature, given that multicultural education and ethnic studies are complementary and in no way mutually exclusive. We know this to be true since it would be difficult to find a department, school or collection of teachers more dedicated to multicultural education than MAS. One only needs to review Superintendent Huppenthal's own audit of our program by the Cambium Group to find our dedication to multicultural education, as well as their recommendation to expand our classes.

"Replacing a program with proven results and significant importance to the community is unethical and can have no other motivation than political convenience."

Pedicone has said that Arce was offered an assistant-principal position within the district, but Arce says the offer came with too many strings, the most restrictive being that his position would need to be approved by the board. Arce does not think the board would have supported him.

Lawyer Martinez, when asked if he thought the community was prepared to step up and support Arce if needed, said, "I think it's one of those issues that are also waiting on Tashima in terms of viable options. Obviously, if we get a favorable ruling, we hope that the whole community will join us in restoring the program—and restoring the teachers and restoring Sean."

Martinez says that while many may not be happy that Romero is interested in the TUSD multicultural position, it is wrong to set up the issue as Romero vs. Arce. What is needed, he says, is to restore the elements that made MAS successful: critical race theory, social justice, academic rigor and a personal interest in seeing to it that students succeed.

"That will be difficult to implement in a multicultural curriculum, a model the district hasn't even presented to the community," Martinez says.

While both sides wait for Tashima's ruling, Arce says he's leaning on his family for support. Watching what has taken place since Horne began attacking MAS in 2006—when labor leader Dolores Huerta criticized Republicans during a talk at Tucson High—has been an educational experience for his children, he says.

"They have a real sense of what community is. They are really politically mature for their ages. They are engaged, and excited about the whole thing, but it is tiring."

Arce says most of his free time these days is spent with his children. "My hope is that when they are older, they will look back at this time and remember it with fondness and (that) they learned something."

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