Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Last Night's TUSD Ethnic Studies Resolution Meeting Gets an F

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2011 at 5:20 PM

It was probably a safe move on the part of Tucson Unified School District board president Mark Stegeman to delay a vote on the resolution he brought before the governing board last night.

The terrible audio provided for those unable to get inside and the historic police presence are enough to question the legality of the meeting under the open-meeting law.

One part of the open meeting law states: “All meetings of any public body shall be public meetings and all persons so desiring shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.” I'm not sure how that pertains to folks sitting on a sidewalk straining to listen, but no worries — after a future public forum, Stegeman will bring the resolution back to a board meeting for vote.

This was Stegeman's second attempt to present his resolution, which makes changes to ethnic studies and the Mexican-American studies department, most specifically changing the status of Chicano history and government classes from core-credit classes that count toward history requirements to electives.

Stegeman's resolution was first scheduled for discussion and vote last week, but was rescheduled after student-led UNIDOS coalition members took over the meeting in protest.

Last night, more than 500 people came to TUSD headquarters, with less than half able to go inside the boardroom at 1010 E. 10th St. A single-file line was formed from near the entrance of the building that went along the sidewalk to the west side of the building to the corner of the alley behind the headquarters. It was slow-going getting inside since each person had to be swept by a wand metal detector, and have their packs and purses searched.

At some point, when the boardroom was filled, those still in line were told to stay outside and hear the meeting projected from loud speakers sitting on the building above the entrance. I was stuck outside, where Tucson Police Department officers were out in full force, with more than 100 officers, more than 20 motorcycles, several paddy wagons, about 10 patrol cars and a trailer.

TPD officers began to put up barricades along areas near the entrance, and although the doors were locked, about five officers stood in front of the entrance through most of the meeting.

Most of the time, unless board members spoke directly and loudly into the microphone, no one could hear them outside.

Most of what board member Miguel Cuevas had to say during the entire meeting was inaudible. Several times, board member Judy Burns explained that she got word that people were having difficulty hearing outside and asked people to speak directly into the microphone. However, as the four-hour meeting progressed, it became difficult for almost everyone to remember Burns' request.

As the board got closer to voting on Stegeman's resolution, the audio speakers went out.

No one outside knew if the meeting was still going on or had been interrupted. No one knew if the people inside knew we couldn't hear the meeting. People started yelling outside to try to get everyone to know there was no audio, and to make sure the meeting was paused, since we could not hear the proceedings. It wasn't until a TPD officer yelled at everyone outside that people learned people inside were working on the issue.

"We told you we were working on it," he yelled.

Well, no, you didn't. No one said anything.

There was a recess until the audio was fixed. The meeting resumed, and Stegeman announced that the resolution would be tabled. A sense of relief swept through the audience and people outside. It was almost 10 p.m., and people started picking up trash and signs, and wondering what was going to happen next.

I walked to my car asking myself how Stegeman and Superintendent John Pedicone could let this entire conversation get this far. Any discussion that took place before and at the beginning of the meeting—that there needed to be a larger community forum-style conversation regarding the future of ethnic studies and Mexican American studies—seems meaningless now.

The community is ripped apart, and what will take place next will be interesting only in that it will have to start with Stegeman and Pedicone figuring out how to heal the damage they've caused.

That's what leaders do.

More observations on the meeting after the jump.

The TUSD meeting last night started at 5:30 p.m. If you drove to TUSD headquarters the 10th Street block in front was blocked by TPD patrol cars. You either had to find the back entrance to the district parking lot in order to park, or park your car in the surrounding neighborhood.

At 4 p.m., people were already gathered in front, lining up at the entrance and gathering near a group of students with a megaphone, protesting on the sidewalk and road. The table set up by clergy led by Alison Harrington, pastor of the Southside Presbyterian Church, was moved from TUSD property to the sidewalk in front of the building.

Students from UNIDOS, who led the protest last week that forced the district to cancel its meeting, set up a table and chairs and declared they were going to conduct their own youth board meeting to continue discussing their demands, which includes that ethnic studies continue as is.

At the beginning of the meeting, those who sat inside were greeted by police in riot gear, who were spread out throughout the board room and inside the lobby. At the entrance, you could see through the windows of the locked front doors that about a dozen police were wearing riot helmets and had white plastic handcuffs hanging from their shirts.

The meeting opened with Stegeman talking about democracy and free speech.

"No one should condone that," he said, about last week's student protest.

Pedicone presented a report to the board on how federal desegregation funds are spent in all ethnic-studies departments and classes. The report was requested by Stegeman at a board meeting three weeks ago. The board discussed the data, and I wish I could tell you more, but I couldn't hear all the questions and most of the discussion because of the audio.

Then came a call to the audience, and if there were interruptions, they were followed by Stegeman lecturing on democracy and listening, which ended up taking just as much time as the 30 minutes the board allocated for public discussion regarding ethnic studies and his resolution.

Only one person spoke critically of ethnic studies; the rest who were able to speak shared a lot of frustration over how they felt about being surrounded by police and herded into the boardroom.

Public-defense attorney Isabel Garcia told the governing-board members that they had to admit that the students' action from last week forced them to "capitulate. ... You have to admit it was the students' courageous acts," she said.

It was the arrival of Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith to the podium that drew the most cheers. The older veteran Chicana activist and teacher didn't hold back.

"I think it's important to know how long we've been here. ... When this is over, you will be gone, and we will still be here," Rubio-Goldsmith said.

She ended with a Spanish dicho, Nothing is more dangerous than people who have no knowledge and have initiative.

Miguel Ortega, a member of the Southern Arizona Unity Coalition, said, "Shame on you. ... You do not understand our community. ... You will be held accountable."

Salomon Baldenegro Sr. told the board he's been coming to school board meetings since 1969, but this is the first time he's seen the Mexican-American "community treated this way. It's shameful and disgraceful. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Pima County Democratic Party Chair Jeff Rogers also spoke. Rogers did a great job representing the Baja Arizona crowd and sharing the sentiment that he didn't understand why the board was capitulating to HB 2281 and state Superintendent John Huppenthal.

"Shame on you for putting us in this room. ... There is a war going on on Southern Arizona, on Tucson ... on our heritage and the way we live our life in this city," Rogers said.

The call to the audience ended with Clarence Boykins, executive director of the Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce.

"I enjoy the presence of the police," Boykins joked. "You guys are really scary. I'm glad they are here for our protection."

Boykins said the issue of ethnic studies is not a Latin issue, but something everyone should be concerned about.

"We will replace you," he said.

UA professor Roberto Rodriguez stood up and asked Stegeman to extend the call to audience, saying that if the board wanted real dialogue, they needed to give people in the room more time to speak. Stegeman told him that wasn't the way board meetings worked. When Guadalupe Castillo, another veteran Chicana activist and teacher went to the podium to speak, Stegeman reportedly pointed to her, and she was pushed and detained by police.

That was when the meeting almost fell apart. Many people in the room rushed to Castillo's defense; the elder has to use canes in both hands to help her walk. KOLD cameraman and filmmaker Edgar Ybarra, who was following police and Castillo with his camera, was roughly pushed by the police and forced out of the building along with Baldenegro, Garcia, Rodriguez and several other activists. (It's important to note that Ybarra tried to get the police to let him back in so he could continue to work, while his reporter co-worker waited for him in the lobby. They refused to let him back in, although they did let another cameraman in to continue working.)

Baldenegro, Garcia and a few others were told to stand at the side of the entrance, where they waited to find out what was going on with Castillo. There were more arrests inside as people began shouting and trying to speak, or refusing to remain quiet, and Pedicone said he had no choice but to remove them from the room.

Outside, protestors began going to the back of the building to see where people were being taken by police. Police on motorcycles blocked the alley way, and protestors made a chain going around the entire building. To get through, police started removing protestors to break the human chain. One person I know was hit by police, and more arrests were made to break up the protests outside on the sides of the building near the alley.

When people wouldn't stop speaking during the meeting, Stegeman ordered police to clear the room, and there was a short recess.

It was reported that Castillo was issued a ticket by police and will have to go before a judge. She was asked to leave the building and was helped by friends who stood on either side of the activist to help her walk out.

Once the meeting started again, Burns said she had about 25 questions for Stegeman, specifically about where he got the facts to back his resolution on how many students actually benefited from the classes and took the classes.

"What data did you use to determine that the classes are not adequate?" Burns said.

Burns also asked about an AP European history class offered by TUSD, which gives students a history credit and college credit. Why wasn't Stegeman questioning this class?

Understanding the discussion that took place between Burns, Stegeman, Hicks, Grijalva and Cuevas was frustrating to those outside, who often strained to listen and didn't know who was speaking. Most often we couldn't hear because of the quality of the audio.

However, at the end of the discussion, Stegeman defended his resolution — that it was written with a desire to secure the district's right for local control.

"If we wait until the state acts, then we won't be in local control," he said.

Stegeman said he feels changing some of the classes to electives will make the program stronger, and getting traditional classes to include more Mexican-American and other ethnic minority histories in the curriculum will also help. Stegeman said he understood that MAS supporters would rather wait for Huppenthal's audit and reaction.

"Be careful what you wish for," he warned.

There was a brief recess when the audio outside completely went out, and someone had to go in and fix the microphones. However, once fixed, Stegeman announced he recommend the board hold off voting on the resolution until the district organized a public forum for more discussion and then bring the resolution back to the board for vote.

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