Norma Gonzalez has taught in the Tucson Unified School District for almost 20 years, and until recently taught middle school and high school students in the district's Mexican-American studies program. The school board voted 4-1 on Jan. 10 to end the classes. As a result, books used in the program were pulled from classrooms and stored in a warehouse. Gonzales started a petition on change.org to bring back the books. She had hoped to get 1,000 signatures—and nearly 16,000 people had signed the petition as of March 5. Gonzales has reset the goal to 25,000 signatures.
What was your motivation to start the petition?
I feel that if people found out what the district was doing—banning books—that's not going to be seen as favorable by anyone. That was one of the reasons to do the petition, to let it be known nationally that our own district is making irrational decisions, which is counter to what we are supposed to be doing as educators.
How long did it take for you to realize this petition was going to be bigger than you first thought?
Within two to three days. My initial goal was 1,000 signatures, and we surpassed that in a couple of days. People really disagreed with what this district chose to do as a reaction to the state's decision (to withhold millions of dollars from the district if the program wasn't suspended). ... Our goal now is 25,000 signatures.
Why did you deliver a copy of the petition to the district on Feb. 9?
Every time someone signed it, the district got an email. They were getting inundated with emails of support (for ethnic studies), so I was a little concerned, because the district was not responding to those emails. ... My thought was, "I will deliver the signatures," which was almost a whole ream of paper, because I had not received any kind of response. I wanted to make sure they had them.
Were you surprised the district didn't respond?
You have a whole bunch of people concerned with their decision and (the lack of) response. But I am not surprised, because of the character of their support—which is anti-student, anti-what's right for students, anti-what's right for the community, anti-local control.
So how is the rest of this semester going for you?
It's been very difficult to come to work, just because there is no direction, no certainty. I am censored. I've been told that any minute, the district (or state) could walk into the classroom and evaluate me (and say) that I am out of compliance. I am not supposed to be teaching anything that has to do with Mexican-American culture or history, and can't use any of the pedagogy associated with our curriculum.
Sometimes it seems unbelievable.
On one hand, we believe it, because we know what we are dealing with. On the other hand, we are supposed to be trusting our own district to do what is right and fight against the state, but they turned their backs on us and on a pedagogy that has proven effective.
Are you ever concerned about retaliation?
Fear always exists about what they will come out with next. I haven't heard or suffered from any retaliation. But I want them to know how I feel. ... I have been working in this district for 20 years now, and ... I know what is effective. The books are a big part of what makes this program effective.
How long will you keep the petition up?
We will take it down sometime in April, and we'll see if I get a response from the district. I doubt it, but I am still going to share with them how the nation feels. What this district is doing is a disgrace.
It must feel good to know people across the country have your back.
Right, and that's what makes it a little easier, I suppose: People are watching. People are supporting us, and like you say, they have our backs. And we know we are on the right side of history, so we're going to continue for our community. This is Mexican American studies, but people have to remember that these classes aren't just for Mexican Americans. All students in our program have excelled.