Guest Commentary

Stegeman: Many of Baldenegro's claims are inaccurate or exaggerated

Salomón Baldenegro, a respected Latino activist, wrote last week about my "discriminatory actions against Mexican Americans" while serving as president of the Tucson Unified School District board. These allegations are highly charged, so it is important to respond to his points.

Mr. Baldenegro complains that "a Mexican American asks for extra time to read a passage about nonviolent protest, and Stegeman orders her arrested." This is misleading. The only persons arrested on May 3 had seized the floor unilaterally, outside of the audience call, and ignored warnings to yield the floor. Most of them were not obviously Mexican American.

He contends that on Aug. 9, I treated "a white guy" who made "violent threats" more leniently. That speaker had signed up for the audience call, waited for his turn, and then accused Chicanos connected with Raza Studies of promoting civil war. His remarks were unpleasant, but he was describing a threat which he perceived from others, based on what he read in a book. I interrupted him when he started to accuse a specific person, but then another board member entered the conversation, and it took awhile to restore order.

Many speakers supporting the Mexican-American studies (MAS) program have made personal and unpleasant remarks at board meetings, and MAS supporters have often jeered MAS opponents. During the May 3 audience call, Mr. Baldenegro himself said: "Dr. Pedicone and Dr. Stegeman, (what you have done) is shameful, is disgraceful, and I hope you go to hell for it. ... I don't know you, Dr. Stegeman, but ... I know ... that you know nothing about our community." I did not interfere with this and similar speeches, so it is hard to understand the claim that I have discriminated against Mexican-American speakers.

Mr. Baldenegro implies that I gave extra time to the aforementioned speaker on Aug. 9, but this is false. The tape shows that I asked the board clerk, "How much time did he use up?" She replied, "He used up about a minute and a half" (of his three minutes). I then gave him one more minute, with a warning which he respected. Mr. Baldenegro also writes that I "allowed" him to make an obscene hand gesture. This gesture was so fast that at least one person on the dais did not even see it, and I did not see it clearly.

Mr. Baldenegro recycles the false claim that on May 10, I "rearranged the speaker cards to assure that the only speakers would be anti-MAS. Expecting the board to be impatient after I extended the audience call to accommodate speakers on an unrelated issue, I separated the MAS speaker cards into two groups: those who had previously spoken to the board, and those who had not. The pro-MAS speakers fell into both groups, and the anti-MAS speakers also fell into both groups. I invited the new speakers to speak first and then asked the board whether to proceed with the rest. Speakers who were not called were invited to speak first at the next audience call.

A review of the audience-call tapes since January would not only confirm these statements, but probably convince most persons that I have treated the two sides of the MAS issue equitably. At least 60 percent of the speakers to the board concerning MAS have been supporters.

Separately, Mr. Baldenegro refers to my testimony in the recent state hearings, which connected MAS to "cult" behavior. The state forced that testimony by reading from personal notes which I took during classroom visits and which I never expected to receive public scrutiny. (The state apparently learned of the notes because I was concerned about a student assignment and showed that part of the notes to several persons.) My testimony shows that the classroom clapping emphasized by Mr. Baldenegro played only a small role in my conclusions.

Mr. Baldenegro compares classroom rituals to the "rah-rah rituals" surrounding competitive sports. The intense us-versus-them atmosphere surrounding school sports seems appropriate in that context, but using similar methods when teaching about sensitive historical issues raises obvious questions.

I appreciate Mr. Baldenegro's distinguished service to the Tucson community and assume that any misstatements were accidental, but accusations of ethnic bias can be very damaging and should be well-substantiated.

TUSD's diversity is an asset. I continue to support the incorporation of Mexican-American history and culture into TUSD's curriculum.

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