Everyone has an opinion about what occurred at the TUSD Governing Board meeting on April 26, 2011. Most, including board members and administration, do not know what actually led up to that moment. They could not know because they have not been involved with the school district for a long enough time.
As an individual who has spent 26 years being involved, at one level or another in a volunteer capacity, I have a different perspective than most.
TUSD's Mexican American Studies classes have a complicated history, but one thing has been consistent: There is a need to bridge the achievement gap between our Mexican-American students and white students.
Many methods had been attempted and failed to show results. The current classes did show results. Students felt engaged in their education, they had purpose, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Their teachers were dedicated to their success and the kids knew it. Other teachers saw the academic improvement when they began these classes. Students graduated at a higher rate and went on to higher education.
I have heard from hundreds of these students over the 10 years I have been a TUSD board member. Their stories have been different, but one thing has been woven through every account: These classes were the turning point in their lives, inspired them to be productive members of society and made them aware of their own self-worth.
For years these teachers and students have been the object of controversy and scrutiny. Words like "un-American" and "violent overthrow" have been bandied about and repeated over and over again. All of this culminated in HB 2281 being passed by our Legislature last spring and becoming law (ARS 15-112) in January.
Since January, these classes have had a stream of people interrupting them. TUSD administration, state officials, media and board members have paraded through the doors, all with a level of scrutiny that no other classes have had to endure. Students had peaceful demonstrations, they spoke to legislators, they spoke to board members and they spoke in regular call to the audience times at TUSD board meetings.
In March, state Superintendent John Huppenthal hired a consulting firm from Florida to come in to TUSD and assess what was really going on with these classes. A report from this group should come to the state and TUSD within the next few weeks.
However, Governing Board President Mark Stegeman decided to write a guest opinion column, ("TUSD should widen but revamp ethnic-studies curriculum," published March 21 in the Star) without board approval, stating his solution to the issue. It involved changing these classes to elective classes, which students have said they cannot fit into their already overcrowded schedules.
Stegeman insisted on placing a resolution on the April 26 agenda that directed the TUSD administration how to proceed with his solution. He was asked numerous times to delay his resolution until the state returned its report and findings to TUSD.
When this resolution became public, the students felt that their democratic communication with officials of the state and the Governing Board had led them nowhere.
What looked like a riot to some was actually a desperate attempt by these students to finally be heard. I saw the potential for problems and decided that I would stay until these students and their parents were safely out of the building. I listened to what they had to say. I supported their right to say it. I saw a group of idealistic, dedicated young adults that were passionate about their education.
They spoke, there was no violence, they cleaned up after themselves and they left in a peaceable manner. They knew they had probably seen the last of their beloved classes.
They knew that it was inevitable that Stegeman or the state of Arizona eliminated the opportunity for future students to have the experiences they have had. They had done all they could within and outside of the system to be heard, and the system failed them.
I commend them for fighting for their education in every way they could.
IF YOU GO
The TUSD board meeting is scheduled 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at TUSD headquarters, 1010 E. 10th Street.
On the agenda will be a proposal to change some ethnic-studies courses to electives.
The TUSD boardroom and lobby can hold a total of 185 people. That capacity will be enforced. Speakers will be placed outside for the overflow crowd.
Anyone attending the meeting Tuesday will be searched, purses will be checked and backpacks will not be allowed. Metal-detector wands may be used.
Judy Burns is clerk of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org