Intimidation attempts fail to stop TUSD Board

At last night’s Tucson Unified School District Governing Board meeting nearly all of the district’s business was set aside and three hours of public comment were allowed for the issue of the Mexican American Studies program and its director, Sean Arce. At issue was the district’s decision to not renew Arce’s employment contract.

Approximately 200, mostly older union members, attended the meeting. Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, and Robert “Dr Cintli” Rodriguez from the University of Arizona’s Mexican American Studies department made their regular appearances.

Before the meeting began, MAS teacher Curtis Acosta went with one student, who has become the program’s new poster boy, from reporter to reporter giving interviews. The high school student is frequently used by MAS proponents to show the “passion” for the classes. Yesterday, Acosta called in his “favors” to students, and requested that they show up in support of the classes. Most educators agree that it is inappropriate for educators to try to compel or otherwise coerce students to act on their behalf.

The MAS program has a long history of rewarding students for showing their agreement with the politics of the teachers. For example, students report that they have been given extra credit for participating in rallies against Arizona laws the teachers did not like, and have been encouraged to attend fundraisers for Raul Grijalva.

One of the first speakers was a leader of the union, AFSCME. Michael Corio began by addressing the district’s employee discipline practices, calling them torturous. He concluded his speech, turning to the audience and said, “To the students of the Mexican American Studies rest assure that 1000 members of the union and 1 millions member so the international union are behind you 100 percent.”

One young woman, Erin Cain-Hodge simply told the Board, “I would like you to know that we are coming for you.”

Sal Baldenegro, took time at the podium preparing for his stump speech. He then took the opportunity to announce that he is running for the State House (LD2), and read a letter in support of Sean Arce written by Arizona Representatives Martín J. Quezada, Catherine Miranda, Sally Gonzales, and Macario Saldate.

Bets Hildago told the Board that she might be running for the school board. She said she didn’t know of another district that would “dis kids who shout ‘our education is under attack, what do we do, we fight back. I hope you know that these classes will come back.”

One young woman told the Board that Arce was like a father to her, and that the classes were like her family. She spoke of the affinity she had for the personalities involved in the MAS program, and asked the Board to not take her family away. Mr. Arce “calls us Mijo and Mija, like a father would,” she offered the Board. Later a district official noted that her statement was more evidence that the teachers attempt to develop relationships with students outside educational norms.

The young student told the Board that she was so excited to perform a dance for so many now famous people at the premier of the testiphonial, Precious Knowledge.

During the district’s appeal of finding that the classes were out of compliance, it was revealed that the district’s Superintendent Pedicone acknowledged that the students were exploited. In an email dated April 28, 2011 Pedicone wrote of the students in the Board meeting takeover, “Too bad, Judy that they are so well meaning and exploited.”

One long time educator, who observed the students last night, noted of the students who spoke, “Almost every one of the kids who came before the Board appeared to have been taken advantage by educators who had to have seen their obvious pain and vulnerability when they came into their classrooms.”

As the speakers ran out before the allotted three hours, speakers were recruited from the crowd to address the Board. Some said they did not know why they were addressing the Board, and one read a pro-MAS message off of his phone.

Arce did not attend the meeting. He says he is going to become an “educational” consultant.

As soon as the Board was to vote on Arce’s employment, the crowd began to loudly chant, “no justice, no peace, no racist TUSD.” Some students bound themselves to each other with zip ties. The meeting had to be adjourned for about ten minutes.

Only one School Board member Miguel Cuevas spoke out on behalf of most of the Tucson community, as the crowd shouted threats at him, and some called him a “fat a– coconut,” and “vendido.” Cuevas acknowledged the threats and insults, and said, “I am going to continue, no matter what they say.” Cuevas told the audience prior to his vote against Arce, “The vast majority of Latino parents have elected not to put their children in these classes.”

On the matter of Congressman Raul Grijalva’s effort to intimidate the Board with a demand that they take responsibility for their actions, Cuevas said, “I don’t hold past Boards responsible for their actions.” He said that he didn’t hold those same past Board members, like Raul Grijalva, responsible, for his poor education at TUSD.

The Board voted 3-2 against renewing Arce’s contract. Board members Alexandre Sugiyama, Pima County Public School Superintendent Arzoumanian’s selection for the Board, and Adelita Grijlava voted to retain Arce.

A smoke bomb was set off at the end of the meeting by protesters. Safety personnel caught the person that threw the smoke bomb, but claimed that they released him “in order to prevent more problems with the protesters.”

There was a brief scuffle between attendees and security guards as protesters left the building. One pro-MAS “reporter” who attempted to become part of the story, claimed security roughed him up. Others reported seeing protesters hurling items such as water bottles at security guards.

Once again the issues related to vast majority of the district’s students were neglected. The pressing issues such as social promotion were set aside.

Related articles:

TUSD’s MAS call in favors and Grijalva

Grijalva’s top aide source of student recruitment effort