Tucson's Rebellion Over Ethnic Studies Continues Today

Ethnic studies student Angelica Penaran takes a TUSD board member to the woodshed

The fight against the effort to slowly kill the Tucson Unified School District's embattled Mexican-American ethnic studies program continues today with a TUSD board of governor's meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. 

Last week, a TUSD vote on a proposal to make the classes electives that do not fulfill a core requirement was postponed after student activists took over the meeting before it began. The board was forced to cancel the meeting after protesters rushed the dais and chained themselves to the members' chairs, preventing board members from being seated.

Initially, the board was planning to reschedule its meeting to May 5, Cinco de Mayo, and hold it at a local high school, so more people could attend. But the meeting has since been set for today, at TUSD's building at 1010 E. 10th Street in Tucson.

A heavy police presence has been promised, with the searching of bags and attendees being given the metal-detector wand treatment.

No arrests were made at the April 26 takeover, but the Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor has warned of possible arrests if people do not heed cops' orders to leave in future demonstrations.

Reportedly, TUSD, law enforcement and the Tucson city attorney's office have been "reviewing" video of last week's action to see if prosecution of the protesters is possible.

The problem TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone has here is that Tucson's community, the students and their parents are unified against any change in the current curricula. 

A study of the program commissioned by state schools' Superintendent John Huppenthal has not yet been released. Nevertheless, board president Mark Stegeman and Pedicone are pushing forward on Stegeman's motion to downgrade the ethnic studies courses, in an apparent attempt to placate Huppenthal before the audit of the program is out.

TUSD could face the loss of millions in state funds if some compromise is not made with the Arizona Department of Education. Attorney General Tom Horne, who preceded Huppenthal as school's Superintendent, declared the program was not compliant with a new state law banning ethnic studies that was passed by the Legislature in 2010.

The students want TUSD to join a federal lawsuit challenging the statute brought by Tucson teachers.

Instead, Pedicone, who has praised the ethnic studies program in the past, has criticized the protesters, calling them "pawns" of adults with agendas.

Nothing could be further from the truth. UNIDOS, the group that organized the protest, is made up of current and former ethnic studies students. As the video above student Angelica Penaran debating board member Stegeman shows, these students are fiercely intelligent quite able of leading their own protests.

Much as been made of the fact that the Sound Strike, the musicians-led boycott of Arizona over Senate Bill 1070, has donated money to UNIDOS, leading to weird conspiracy theories.

Sound Strike spokesman Javier Gonzalez has been very open about the fact that the Sound Strike has given money to several local activist organizations, including UNIDOS. He told me recently that he had no prior knowledge of what the protesters would do on April 26, but he said Sound Strike supported the action.

UNIDOS member Leilani Clark, a former TUSD ethnic studies student now in college, confirmed to me that UNIDOS received the donation a couple of weeks before, and that the students planned the protest on their own.

What an absurd red herring. Who cares where UNIDOS receives funding from? Hell, If I didn't survive on a reporter's salary, I'd be tempted to send these bold young scholars a check myself.

Note: The Arizona Daily Star has just reported that Pedicone has asked the board to hold off on the vote scheduled for today. However, the item is still on the agenda, and the fuse remains lit for now.


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