Glendale Elementary School District officials have changed their minds and decided to discuss the content of essays by the eighth-grade students dissed by substitute teacher Tony Hill.
The upshot? Well, it sounds like Hill's nothing but a student-hating liar.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, we're intrigued by the existence of hard evidence in this controversy. Hill's bigoted letter to state Senator Russell Pearce, which was read at the State Capitol to gullible right-wing lawmakers (and incredulous left-wing ones), makes specific statements about the content of essays written by his students:
The students' final drafts that I read were basically the same. Most of them stated they were in the country illegally, White Americans are racist, and that they came here for a better life.
We've been bugging the Glendale district to release the essays (without naming the students), so everyone could see whether Hill was right or wrong. The way we see it, no one will be able to prove what happened in the March 8 class at Harold W. Smith Elementary School because it wasn't recorded on video or audio. However, the essays constitute empirical evidence: They either say what Hill says they did, or not.
After debating with the district on the scope of privacy statutes in federal education law, a district spokesman agreed to chat in detail with us about what the students wrote.
"I have read all the essays, and those statements [Hill claimed were there] are not in there," says spokesman Jim Cummings.
The assignment was to watch a CNN debate featuring Democratic state Senator Steve Gallardo, then write a paper to "thank him" for his views on illegal immigration, or take a position against him. True, the idea of "thanking" the senator may be somewhat unusual for a persuasive essay assignment, Cummings admits, "but the teacher is young, and it was just his approach."
Some students did mention that they felt racism was one factor driving Arizona's debate on immigration issues, but none mentioned white americans being racist, as Hill claimed, Cummings says.
Two students wrote that immigrants came to the United States for a better life, but those students didn't specifically refer to illegal immigration -- and none of the students stated that he or she was an illegal immigrant, Cummings says.
In other words, Hill just made up that crap about the essays, if Cummings is right.
The district still won't release the essays, but we have no reason to doubt Cummings. Hill's letter never had much credibility to begin with because of its rank bigotry, which was expressed bluntly in his statement that "most of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters."
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Hill claimed in his letter that he can't be a racist because his wife's Hispanic, yet New Times revealed this week that a judge noted in court records that Hill had choked his wife during a squabble and abused his family pet in front of his kids.
If anything was surprising in the students' assignments, Cummings says, it was how well the eighth-graders wrote and expressed their opinions. Not all of the letters were "thank-yous" to Gallardo, he says. Some of the kids mentioned that the United States could use better border protection and improve its immigration laws. Two students even argued against Gallardo's position.
"There was a variety of opinion," he says. "Most kids fell pretty much in the middle."
It appears that the only extremist in the class on March 8 was teaching the class.