All sides have a lot to answer for after the TUSD Governing Board meeting Tuesday night. The board mishandled the meeting and the pro-ethnic-studies protesters resorted to vindictive personal attacks.

With this kind of public embarrassment, it's no wonder elected officials in Phoenix think they can come in and meddle in the district's affairs.

Board President Mark Stegeman should have insisted that the call to the audience last as long as it took to make sure every person who wanted to speak had the chance on Tuesday night. Instead, he cut it off after about the customary 30 minutes - a move that infuriated the already frustrated students, teachers, parents and community members who'd come to fight for a program they believe benefits students who take Mexican American Studies courses.

But those supporters behaved in a manner that denigrates the goals of civic engagement, democracy and community involvement they say their program promotes. They lobbed unwarranted personal attacks at Governing Board members and administrators, calling them racists and more. They booed and heckled a woman from Peru who said it is parents' job to teach their children about their heritage, not the role of a school district.

The board voted to hold a public forum about ethnic studies, and to postpone a vote on Stegeman's proposal to make two Mexican American social-studies courses electives. Right now they count toward the three required social-studies units. His plan would also expand the existing American history course in all high schools to include some of the Mexican American studies material.

Governing Board members need to sit and listen to every person who wants to speak their piece about the Stegeman proposal. This meeting must happen soon and in a large venue, not in the small boardroom at TUSD headquarters. About 300 people had to listen to loudspeakers outside Tuesday. The next meeting doesn't need 100 police officers, a dog unit and the police helicopter, either. Talk about an overreaction to the previous week's meeting, when students chained themselves to chairs on the board dais.

Next time, the supporters of Mexican American studies must eliminate the ad hominem attacks and disruptive shouting from the audience. Verbal assaults on people voters elected to lead the district won't achieve anything.

Passions are high, but all of the key players have repeatedly expressed their support for ethnic studies. That ought to be common ground for respectful discussion.

If people cannot come together and behave in a way that reflects the intelligence, caring and the passion for education that all sides possess, then TUSD will have defeated itself.

Arizona Daily Star