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A Strange Trip 

Everyone agrees: 2012 was not TUSD's finest year

When Roque Daniel Planas heard how the Tucson Unified School District went about banning the books used in the district's former Mexican-American studies classes, he knew he had to come to Tucson.

Planas—now associate editor for Latino Voices on The Huffington Post—worked as a Web reporter for Fox News Latino when he came to Tucson to cover the book ban, and said it was the ban that finally put the district and MAS on the national radar.

"When I saw the list of books, I realized they were all the books I had studied in grad school, all the books that gave me the consciousness of being interested in Latino intellectual issues and made me want to study," Planas said.

The ban led Planas and others to conclude that the MAS mess is one of the biggest civil-rights issues facing the national Latino community. "And I still think that."

The first TUSD board meeting in 2012, on Jan. 10, saw the swearing in of Alexandre Sugiyama, a UA lecturer in economics—the same academic department where board member Mark Stegeman works. That night, Sugiyama took his oath of office, helped Stegeman return as president of the board, and joined the 4-1 vote to kill MAS. Board-member Adelita Grijalva was the only board member to vote no.

As we reported in what "What Now?" (Jan. 19), the aftermath could be described as a public-relations disaster. Teachers were told to immediately change the curriculum, so, for example, classes in Chicano literature had to become regular literature classes. However, the district's obvious lack of strategy grew apparent as staff members went into former MAS classes throughout the district to pack away books—in some cases in front of students.

It's easy to understand why national reporters like Planas decided to focus some of their attention on Tucson's largest school district. In the pages of the Tucson Weekly, both online and in print, TUSD occupied more headlines than any other topic.

Planas said another reason the banning of books gained so much national attention was because it was a direct attack on a group of people who had largely remained silent during other civil-rights issues in Arizona, such as SB 1070—fiction writers.

"When they saw that their writing was removed from the curriculum without debate, they got involved, and that helped increase national attention," Planas said. "I think it's a pretty common sentiment that fiction writers, who are usually sequestered, feel that political wrangling is beneath them. That changed."

Meanwhile, the war against MAS continued. Board member Michael Hicks went on a local conservative talk radio show on Feb. 2 and said that during the April 2011 school board meeting disrupted by the student-led group UNIDOS, he was so scared that he feared for his life. However, videos and pictures from that evening clearly show Hicks standing at the dais with other board members, smiling and talking.

Another issue loomed over the district this year—the almost-40-year-old desegregation lawsuit, Mendoza-Fisher v. TUSD. In "Diverse Viewpoints" (Feb. 16), attorneys from the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) asked U.S. District Court Judge David Bury, overseeing the deseg case, to intervene and reinstate the MAS classes. A month later, Bury and his appointed deseg-specialist, Willis Hawley, rejected the request.

Sylvia Campoy, a former TUSD school board member and the Mendoza representative in the lawsuit, told the Weekly, "What is very sad for me is to recognize the fact that (the TUSD board) did not utilize the (federal desegregation) order to defend the MAS program ... over the state law that was created to dismantle it," Campoy said.

March ended with a change in the annual Cesar Chavez March, which for the past 11 years had started at Pueblo Magnet High School. In "In TUSD Rules Force Cesar Chavez March to New Kick-Off Location" (The Range, March 30), we reported the march would start at St. John's Catholic Church because of TUSD's demands: Administrators declared that nothing negative could be said at the kickoff about the district and its board members, and there could be no political signage or petitions.

The issue later became part of an ongoing U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights complaint when it was pointed out that the district had allowed Sabino High School's Teen Republicans to host a congressional political debate, moderated by two local conservative radio hosts, in the school auditorium.

In April, we posted the now-infamous interview Hicks did with Al Madrigal on The Daily Show, during which Hicks admitted he never visited a MAS class before his vote to kill the program, and claimed that teachers used burritos to create a bond. Finally, he identified civil-rights hero Rosa Parks as Rosa Clark.

At the April 10 board meeting, MAS supporters served burritos—and that night, MAS director Sean Arce was fired by the board.

In May, we wrote about the district hiring former MAS co-founder Auggie Romero to head up a new multicultural curriculum intended to replace MAS; the hire wound up splitting some MAS advocates.

During the summer, state Attorney General Tom Horne, the main champion of the state's anti-MAS law, tried to intervene in the deseg case by asking Bury to prevent MAS from being placed in the final deseg document. Bury shot him down, but allowed him to file objections at the end of the public-review process, which took place this month.

The start of the 2012-2013 school year brought yet more problems, as we reported that some Pueblo Magnet High School students didn't get bus service on the first day of school—and claimed they were never warned about service changes.

In "Not-so-Special Education" (Aug. 23), we began looking into another serious TUSD issue, following the district's settlement with former school psychologist Rose Hamway, who claimed retaliation after she spoke out about wrongdoing and other problems regarding the district's treatment of special-needs students. We later told the stories of two families Hamway worked with, who also filed OCR complaints.

As the Weekly went to press with early holiday deadlines, on Thursday, Dec. 20, the TUSD governing board voted to close 11 schools—including two in the same westside, predominantly Latino neighborhood. Most of the schools on the closure list serve poor students and families.

The board is already getting criticized for only providing 45 minutes for a call to the audience. Meanwhile, Hicks had surprised his biggest critics, explaining on Dec. 4 to a group of Brichta Elementary parents that he would not vote for any school closures.

Stay tuned.

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