All in the Family

After a fight with a student, a monitor--the principal's brother-in-law--gets promoted to substitute teacher.

Joshua Camarena was not like the other monitors who patrol the hilly campus of Maxwell Middle School. He was imposing, even intimidating. But students returned fire. They called him "Beefy."

Who was being bullied?

The uneasy relationships came to a head, symbolically and physically, during a lunch break last school year.

Camarena approached a group of kids and one said: "What's up?" He began to shake hands with Camarena, who squeezed the student's hand until the student was in pain, according to a narrative the student provided to school officials. While others were calling out "Beefy," the exchange escalated. Camarena traded first words with the kid, then they traded blows. Camarena took the kid in a headlock. They separated, pushed one another--and the student hit Camarena with a rock. He hit Camarena with the rock a second time. Caramena recovered and hit the kid in the face, then pinned him to the ground with his knee until other monitors arrived, according to the student's account.

But Camarena was different from the other monitors in another way: He is Maxwell Principal Ruben Ruiz's brother-in-law.

After $7.60-an-hour stints as a monitor at Utterback and Doolen junior high schools, Camarena returned in January to Maxwell and his brother-in-law as a long-term substitute teacher. He now makes $121 a day, according to TUSD.

The incident has served to underscore the uneasy relationship between Ruiz and some members of the faculty and staff at the westside school that also must combat status as a failing school. Ruiz is in his second year at Maxwell.

Some longtime teachers at Maxwell complain bitterly about Ruiz, but only privately. They say they fear retaliation and sense zero support from Tucson Unified School District headquarters and, specifically, Marla Motove, an assistant superintendent who is one of the beneficiaries of Superintendent Stan Paz's reorganization.

Paz and Motove did not return calls.

Uncovering what has happened at Maxwell might be difficult for TUSD, which has begun an investigation.

Teachers are loath to put their objections on the record. The student who fought with Camarena has moved on to Tucson High School and his mother continues to vacillate on whether to press any claim against TUSD, or to even have her son participate in an inquiry.

Named for pioneering African-American educator Morgan Maxwell, who expanded educational opportunities for minorities, Maxwell Middle School opened in 1975, two years before Camarena was born.

Reached at his family's home during TUSD's spring vacation, Camarena politely asked the reporter if he could talk at a later time. He did not call back and did not respond to a message left on a recorder.

Some within TUSD say he is doing a credible job as a substitute teacher--that he is a far better teacher than a monitor. And while some Maxwell teachers disagree about Camarena's classroom performance, they won't talk on the record.

Ruiz didn't return messages left at his office on April 11. The phone listed at his Ironwood Hills Drive home is disconnected. But Ruiz was at his office on April 22, catching up on paperwork.

He acknowledged that Camarena, his wife's brother, is on his staff. Asked if he had a conflict-of-interest statement on file, Ruiz said it was in the school files, but not at TUSD headquarters. Camarena signed a standard conflict of interest form used by TUSD several weeks after school resumed following the winter break, records show.

"I had Josh sign it. It says that there will be no favoritism," Ruiz said of a statement he says in his office files. State law forbids Ruiz from giving Camarena advice or making decisions that would specifically benefit Camarena.

Asked about Camarena's incident last year with the student, Ruiz remained cordial but said he would no longer be able to discuss the matter. He then stopped the interview and said the reporter would have to leave and first talk to TUSD's public relations department. After that was done, Ruiz said, he would talk.

At the door, Ruiz first denied there was any confrontation between Camarena and a student and then asked: "Are you sure you know what you are talking about? You don't know what transpired? When was that, a year and half ago? You're talking about something that happened a year and half ago."

Ruiz again promised he would answer questions after TUSD's public relations office was contacted. That's protocol, he said.

But that office's presumptive leader, Estella Zavala, said later Monday that Ruiz will probably be unable to talk about Camarena's clash with the student last year, how he returned as a long-term substitute or about the reported trouble with faculty.

Students' rights to privacy seal one issue, and personnel matters that must be confidential preclude discussion of the others, Zavala said.

"He probably can't say much," she said.


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