The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board meeting on Tuesday night was brief but volatile as the District continues to disintegrate from within. Tensions were high as the Board discussed the recent finding by the Arizona Department of Education that the Culturally Relevant classes do not comply with State law.
Tensions have been steadily increasing under Superintendent H.T Sanchez’s leadership. District morale is at an all time low, as teachers, administrators, and other officials grapple with the erratic decision making, personnel changes, and an increasingly hostile work environment.
With the decision by the out-going Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that the District was out of compliance with state law and facing a 10 percent across the board cut in state funding, the District has descended into chaos.
TUSD Governing Board member Mark Stegeman sent out a letter immediately before last night’s meeting in which he described the situation: “The tone of TUSD’s relationships with the state, the desegregation plaintiffs, and the federal district court have all deteriorated markedly, compared to a year ago.”
Part of the tension has stemmed from Sanchez’s refusal to share completely truthful information with his Board members and the public. That failure to be candid has lost him much of the support he had enjoyed with the ADE and the public.
According to Sanchez in a statement released on Monday, “Back in early December, I asked for a meeting from the outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction regarding his concerns, but so far that has not happened.”
Contrary to Sanchez’s claims, ADE’s top staff did meet with Sanchez’s right hand man, Steve Holmes, on December 12 to discuss the issue. Sanchez even refers to Holmes in his December 3 letter to the ADE, as “my designee, who speaks for the District regarding this curriculum.”
Sanchez’s characterization of the situation is also being challenged by Stegeman and others. Sanchez claims: “The state of Arizona has repeatedly attempted to intervene in the districts active desegregation case for the stated purpose of controlling the district’s implementation of federal court-mandated curriculum. These courses were developed specifically under the court order. That order–the Unitary Status Plan–requires us to develop and implement culturally relevant courses taught from both the Mexican American and African American perspectives.”
However, as Stegeman notes in his letter to constituents:
“There is no apparent conflict between the Unitary Status Plan (USP) and enforcement of 15-112, because while the USP requires the CRC it nowhere suggests that the courses be taught in a way that violates 15-112. The courts, accordingly, have never indicated that the ADE should disregard violations of 15-112.”
“The desegregation court has repeatedly noted this separation, writing for example in 2012: “The special master has asserted an approach, which on its face does not appear to be contrary to Arizona law. The court believes that Defendant TUSD has demonstrated its capability and interest in ensuring that the USP complies with state law.” (The court’s recent writings are less flattering to TUSD.)
“District leadership’s interpretation of the ADE’s Notice is somewhat different. TUSD’s media statement on Friday said, in part: “This threatened enforcement proceeding is nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the federal court orders denying the State’s intervention. It seeks to undermine our compliance with the curriculum mandates of the Unitary Status Plan.”
Stegeman concludes, “Whatever merits the state’s complaint may or may not have, I see nothing in its action that circumvents any court order or threatens compliance with the USP’s curriculum mandates. The ADE has, in fact, accepted the courts’ implicit guidance to pursue its enforcement activities outside of federal court.”
ADE had little choice but to act after the creator of the classes, Dr. Augustine Romero, had a temper tantrum on video in which he claimed that everything that was found illegal by the State before was back in the classroom. The ADE essentially asked the District to prove he wasn’t lying. The documents supplied by TUSD in December clearly indicate, after much review that Romero was telling the truth.
Related article: TUSD documents confirm Romero’s Ethnic Studies “is back” claims
In an effort to put others on the hot seat, Sanchez went on the offensive in Tuesday night’s meeting complaining that Stegeman did not defend the District against the ADE. According to sources, Board president Adelita Grijalva, Cam Juarez and Sanchez recruited radical raza activist Isabel Garcia to speak to the Board last night.
Garcia, a Pima County public defender, who is best known for encouraging young students to attack an effigy of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The video of Garcia with the students beating the effigy, and marching around with its head in her raised hand became a point of pride for Garcia and made her a popular figure with the District’s Mexican American Studies students.
That stunt and her participation in the takeover of the Governing Board meeting in 2011 have made Garcia the go-to-girl when Grijalva and Sanchez needs backup.
Still, the histrionics of Tuesday’s meeting were only on display to shift the focus for the mainstream media. Sanchez has the three votes he needs to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the state once again.
The District lost the last fight when Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal agreed with the ADE’s initial finding that the District was in violation of state law.
Yet, Sanchez is vowing to fight.
For his part, Stegeman told constituents that he hopes “that ADE and TUSD leadership work constructively together to find a solution that satisfies both sides and the USP. I am convinced that this is possible. I also believe that returning to contentious litigation and operating under the threat of a severe funding cut would serve no one’s ultimate goals.”
Unless of course the ultimate goal is to perpetuate the oppressor/victim narrative.