The director of TUSD's Mexican American Studies program was disciplined for canceling a long-standing awards ceremony that celebrates the achievements of Mexican-American students.

Sean Arce made the decision to cancel the ceremony, which has been held yearly for the last decade, without consulting his supervisor or other administrators.

Arce received a letter of reprimand from Assistant Superintendent Lupita Cavazos-Garcia on May 24. It said that his choice resulted in Mexican-American students and parents being denied the opportunity for public recognition.

The Mexican American Awards Ceremony is one of four events put on by the directors of the ethnic-studies departments. It is also the largest of the ceremonies, since more than 60 percent of TUSD students are Hispanic.

All of the other directors planned and held ceremonies for their respective students as scheduled.

"Canceling this recognition event gives the impression that the students are not your primary concern," Cavazos-Garcia wrote.

Arce's decision to cancel the ceremony came to light on May 9 at a staff meeting when Cavazos-Garcia asked him for the date of the event.

He told Cavazos-Garcia that he was unable to put anything together because of funding concerns as well as a facility problem at the University of Arizona, where the event was to be held.

Cavazos-Garcia scheduled a meeting with Arce May 11 where she encouraged him to reschedule the celebration and said that it could be held at a TUSD high school over the weekend of May 21 - the only time that could be scheduled on such late notice.

She showed him the balance of funds available to him, which totaled $4,000 in gifts and donations. Cavazos-Garcia also offered the support of 14 departments that she supervises to help put it together and said it could include cookies, punch and cake.

The following morning Cavazos-Garcia emailed Arce asking if he had secured a location. Arce responded with four reasons the district shouldn't reschedule and noted that he would be in California that weekend speaking about Mexican American Studies at a conference.

The reasons cited were: the certificates of recognition already had been sent out to students; the Mexican American Studies Department wouldn't be able to put in the effort required to put on the ceremony; any attempt to reschedule would be interpreted as halfhearted and disingenuous; and dozens of parents of Mexican American Studies students were extremely upset because of developments surrounding the program, so rather than allow for an escalation of a delicate situation, he believed that it was best to let cooler heads prevail.

Four days later, Cavazos-Garcia sent a notice of intent to impose discipline on Arce.

Arce responded to the notice, but only through his attorney, Richard Martinez.

Martinez contended that Arce's decision was reasonable and prudent, and that it was within his discretion as program director. He also said that a function limited to Mexican-American students in the current political climate would have subjected students and families to "vitriolic criticism."

Cavazos-Garcia responded that the event is meant to recognize all Mexican-American students, not only those enrolled in the program. She also said Arce could have discussed his concerns earlier and chose not to.

"Making sure that the award ceremony was planned and held is well within your duties and responsibilities," Cavazos-Garcia wrote. "Canceling the event that impacts so many students, the superintendent, the community at large and many other city leaders is not a decision that you could have or should have made on your own, especially considering the climate.

"Regardless of the climate or the politics, professional educators never lose sight of focus of what is in the best interest of all the children."

Arce's attorney has threatened to challenge the discipline in court, calling the action First Amendment retaliation.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175.