PHOENIX - TUSD Governing Board President Mark Stegeman and member Michael Hicks gave potentially damaging testimony in the district's fight to defend its Mexican American Studies program Friday.
The testimony came on the first day of an administrative appeal hearing in Phoenix. Both were witnesses for the Arizona Department of Education, which contends that the Tucson Unified School District program is in violation of state law, putting it at risk of losing nearly $15 million in state funding should it be found out of compliance.
The law prohibits courses that promote resentment towards a race or class of people; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race; advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals; and promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.
While TUSD maintains that it is in compliance, Hicks testified the program violates the law. He later said he believes certain teachers are indoctrinating children, not educating them.
Stegeman, however, was emotional while testifying about a classroom visit in which he described behavior that he said aligned with a book on cult psychology, "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer. It discusses the crucial elements of mass movements, which include glorifying the past and devaluing the present, the ability to foster hatred indirectly and using doctrine to substitute for fact.
Referencing his classroom visit, Stegeman said it started off with rhythmic clapping and chanting: "We must be willing to act with a revolutionary spirit" and "We are still in the struggle" and the use of the phrase "internalized oppression."
He said he is concerned some classes promote resentment and believes they were designed primarily for Latino students despite the fact that the courses are open to all. Based on his classroom observations and research, it does not make sense to preserve the program, he said. He supports infusing Mexican-American history and culture into mainstream courses.
Throughout the hearing Stegeman said he was uncomfortable having to testify, adding he had been placed in an awkward position.
"I have a fiduciary responsibility to the district and the state has taken an action against the district with potentially severe consequences," Stegeman said after the hearing. "I just gave testimony that may be used against us."
Also on the witness stand for the state were John Stollar, chief of Programs and Policy for the Arizona Department of Education, and ADE Associate Superintendent Kathy Hrabluk, whose testimony will continue next week.
Stollar testified for several hours about his involvement in the investigation, which was primarily reviewing materials and the results of a $110,000 audit ordered by Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal.
Based on his involvement, Stollar concluded the only way TUSD could come into compliance is by ending Mexican American Studies program and starting over. Stollar said the existing program cannot be tweaked because its approach and classroom materials are flawed.
TUSD attorneys argued there was no proof that controversial materials cited by state Department of Education have ever been used in TUSD classrooms.
TUSD also pointed to the fact that the state-ordered audit found that the program is in compliance, but that was disregarded.
Two more hearing days are scheduled on Tuesday, followed by one Sept. 14 when testimony is expected to finish.
Administrative Law Judge Lewis D. Kowal is presiding over the hearing.
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Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175.