Glendale Eighth-Graders in Sub's Class Weren't "Perfectly Behaved," But Weren't Anti-American, Either, District Says

Glendale eighth-graders who were the subjects of a controversial letter written by a substitute teacher were not "perfectly behaved" in the sub's class, a school district official admits.

But after interviewing the students, district officials don't believe the class expressed any sort of anti-American sentiment, says Jim Cummings, spokesman for the Glendale Elementary School District.

The flap over what really happened in the March 8 class subbed by Valley resident Tony Hill continued Thursday with statements by district officials that Hill's letter -- read to the State Senate last week -- contained inaccuracies. A letter by Harold W. Smith Elementary School's principal, Rick Alvarez, essentially calls Hill a liar. Cummings is quoted in an Arizona Republic article today saying, "We don't believe that he represented this campus accurately at all."

Yet Cummings tells New Times today that, "There are possibly nuggets of truth of what he might have said. Some kids misbehaved -- that's probably true."

"Are we saying the kids were angels and perfectly behaved? Absolutely not," Cummings says.

The kids told the principal, who interviewed them, that "they didn't believe (Hill) had control of the class, and there were a couple of the kids who were pushing it," Cummings says.

But the students claimed that everyone stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, Cummings says. And none of the kids could recall, or admitted to saying, anything like "we are Mexicans and Americans stole our land."

When the students were asked about the inflammatory statements Hill claims he heard, "they look at you like you're out of your mind," Cummings says. He adds that the stories from students were "remarkably consistent," which led district officials to believe that they were telling the truth.

We ask Cummings if that means he's calling Hill a liar.

"I'm not going to go there," he says.

Hill has maintained that the letter was accurate. But district officials say Hill was incorrect to write that the students were assigned to thank Gallardo "for his position on Illegal Immigration rights."

As with the students' behavior, though, there's at least a kernel of truth in Hill's perception. The students had, in fact, been assigned by their regular teacher (whom the district declined to identify Cannon, according to the exit report -- Mr. Cannon, since Cummings said he was a man) to write about a 2007 interview on YouTube of Democratic lawmaker Steve Gallardo by former CNN blowhard Lou Dobbs. The assignment by the regular teacher was to watch the YouTube video and write a letter in which they took a position for or against Gallardo's side, officials say. The essays were never sent to Gallardo, and Cummings isn't sure whether the teacher intended them to be mailed.

Cummings didn't know why the teacher selected that video for the assignment.

Hill's letter states:

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.

Cummings says he's seen the essays, but he wouldn't describe what they said. The district won't release the essays to the public because of federal privacy laws, he says.

That's sort of a shame, now that our interest is piqued. Perhaps the district could somehow release the essays without the students' names; they would clearly help the public understand the students' mindset.

We obtained from Cummings the exit report we wrote about yesterday -- see below. We still think it supports Hill's letter, to some extent: He wrote that the kids refused to follow directions, "refused to act proper" (sic) and that his overall experience was "poor." If he'd written that the class went smoothly, we'd dismiss him entirely as a nut.

Critics have jumped on the fact that he didn't describe the inappropriate behavior in detail. We're not sure if that means Hill made up the stuff he knew Russell Pearce and the race-baiters would love. For sure, Hill's credibility is weakened by his bigoted statements that "most of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters. They hate America and are determined to reclaim this area for Mexico."

Hill's letter states that his wife and children are Hispanic, which makes his insensitivity to the matter astounding -- even if he's not a liar.

Anthony Hill Exit Report

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.