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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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The program took its last breath on Tuesday, April 10, when TUSD governing-board members voted 3-2 against renewing MAS director Sean Arce's contract. Earlier, talk had surfaced that TUSD administrators had created a new position for a multicultural curriculum director, and that the person in line for the job was Augustine Romero, a former MAS director and the current director of TUSD's Department of Student Equity.

Several former MAS teachers, as well as Tucson attorney Richard Martinez, have expressed dismay that Romero could accept the position for the yet-to-be created program, which is intended to replace MAS and appease the state Department of Education.

Arce, who is on paid leave until his contract expires on June 30 (he's using up his vacation time), sits at Epic Cafe on Fourth Avenue on a recent day, lamenting the demise of his program, which began in 1999. In 2010, HB 2281 became law.

The law, authored by then-state Superintendent of Education Tom Horne, now Arizona's attorney general, specifically targets Tucson's MAS classes and teachers.

When the subject of Romero enters the conversation, Arce says that the current circumstances are difficult in part because he's known Romero for years. At a recent Little League game, Arce and his 10-year-old son saw Romero's son and family, as they often have before. But this time, the conversation that took place was uncomfortable—for everyone.

"It's tough, especially because these are our kids," Arce says.

On April 3, I emailed Romero and asked him to verify that the position had been created, and asked whether he had accepted the job. Romero responded that he hadn't accepted any position, but that he has received lots of support from colleagues and friends in Tucson and across the United States.

"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 (of) 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," Romero wrote.

A source who asked not to be identified told me that the TUSD governing board discussed Romero's appointment to the new position in a private session. Two members supported Romero; two opposed him; one remained silent on the issue.

Romero said the district sent him a letter regarding the position, but that a vote on contracts would not take place until the next week's meeting—which turned out to be the meeting at which Arce's contract wasn't renewed.

"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 people from throughout the country and community who believe that I need to be there to hold the district accountable," Romero wrote in another email.

During a recent phone interview, Romero confirmed that the fallout over his candidacy for the job has been difficult on friendships and family relationships alike.

Romero is a brother-in-law of attorney Martinez, who represents Arce and 10 other MAS teachers in an effort to dismiss the state law. Martinez also represents Arce's daughter, Maya, one of two student-plaintiffs that U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima has allowed to challenge the law's constitutionality.

"He was the best man at my wedding," Romero says of Martinez.

At his office near Cushing Street, Martinez tells me that "it's become obvious that Auggie has been working in secret with the school district on the idea of a multicultural curriculum for a while now."

Romero counters that Martinez is mistaken.

"That's insulting, as well as disheartening," Romero says. "On a personal note, they know that if anything, I have always supported the (MAS) program and the teachers. Always."

Romero says that some MAS supporters are trying to characterize him as a sellout.

"But if anything, my record shows that not only do I support the program, but I have a record of delivering to the community," he says. "Now they say I am in opposition to the teachers. ... But we're all on the same team. They've bought into the oldest trick in the book that makes us turn on each other. We've got to recognize that, and that's my biggest concern—that we're inflicting some of our own pain from the other side on each other. But why cause more harm?"

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