Yes, Virginia, the TUSD Board Did Approve Three of the Banned Books

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Tucson Unified School District president Mark Stegeman's letter to constituents finally got forwarded to me. The letter was e-mailed to "constituents" over the weekend along with a copy of the Hicks resolution that the board approved 4-1 to dismantle Mexican American Studies. By the time I read Stegeman's letter today I had already read a blog post by Blog for Arizona's David Safier that you can also read here.

Safier, one of Tucson's best and most knowledgeable blogger's covering local and state education issues, has steadily written about TUSD's Mexican American Studies. In Safier's post, besides continuing to question Stegemen and the district's denial or semantics debate that book-banning is taking place, he points out another issue in Stegeman's letter that is worth noting where the board president wrote, "I am not aware of any other school district in Arizona which has approved these books for use in instruction. If anyone knows of such approvals, then I would be interested to hear about them."

Safier links to a Three Sonoran's blog post in which it's handily pointed out that indeed the district did approve three of the books the district recently banned: Critical Race Theory, Occupied America and Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Here's a copy of the document the Three Sonorans refers to from a June 12, 2007 TUSD governing board meeting.

Here's Stegeman's letter, followed by the Hicks resolution:

January 22, 2012

Dear friends and correspondents,

Because of the recent media attention on TUSD’s “book ban,” it seems useful to clarify that situation. TUSD also issued a press release on this subject several days ago, which is posted on the district website.

Every district in the state approves curriculum according to a process guided by statute and local policy, and approving the books to be used is part of that process. Through such processes a typical district might approve several hundred books for use in instruction. This leaves millions of books not approved for instruction; it would be silly to say that all of those books are “banned.”

When the TUSD board voted (4-1) to end the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, ending use of the books had to be part of that package. Staff says that the seven titles removed from classrooms and placed into storage are still available in school libraries, and I expect many of the books in storage to be distributed to libraries where they are not already available.

Because MAS did not actually have a board-approved curriculum, it was not immediately obvious which books to remove, but the staff took guidance from the evidence presented during the hearing on TUSD’s appeal of Huppenthal’s finding against the district. Because one motivation for the board’s vote to end the MAS classes was to forestall the substantial financial penalty which the ADE threatened to impose, it made sense to remove the books which helped to provide the basis for that finding.

The seven removed books are:

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos - Rodolfo Acuña

Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years - Bill Bigelow

Critical Race Theory - Richard Delgado

Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Paulo Freire

Message to AZTLAN - Rodolfo Gonzales

500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures - Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)

Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement - Arturo Rosales

I am not aware of any other school district in Arizona which has approved these books for use in instruction. If anyone knows of such approvals, then I would be interested to hear about them.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is not on this list and never was, despite some media accounts to the contrary. Instructors are free to use it.

In the resolution which ended the MAS program, the TUSD board also said:

“The district shall revise its social studies core curriculum to increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues. The end result shall be a single common social studies core sequence through which all high school students are exposed to diverse viewpoints.”

When staff brings this new curriculum to the board, it may or may not recommend that some of the seven books be approved for use in that new curriculum. I do not expect this to happen any time soon, however. Developing the new curriculum will be a long process, which will include community input. Obviously, this time, we want to get it right.

Thank you for your continued interest in TUSD. The MAS issue has been a long-running distraction for the district, far out of proportion to the small number of students in the MAS courses (currently fewer than 300). Bringing that issue to closure will increase our capacity to focus on the many large reforms necessary to improve education in TUSD, for all students.

Mark

The governing board of the Tucson Unified School District hereby resolves:

The Mexican-American Studies (MAS) Department is and shall remain an organizational contributor to TUSD’s commitment to greater academic and social equity for Hispanic Students.

All MAS courses and teaching activities, regardless of the budget line from which they are funded, shall be suspended immediately.

Students currently enrolled in MAS courses shall be transferred to new or existing sections of other courses, so that they do not lose the opportunity to earn credits and to satisfy requirements because of the suspension of the MAS courses.

The MAS department shall not hire, supervise, or evaluate classroom teachers.

The district shall revise its social studies core curriculum to increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues. The end result shall be a single common social studies core sequence through which all high school students are exposed to diverse viewpoints.

The district shall study and bring to the board new measures designed to narrow the achievement gaps for traditionally underserved and economically disadvantaged students.

Staff will present a plan to the Board for implementation of this resolution by August 2012. Staff shall also update the board regularly on the progress of these initiatives and on steps taken to ensure compliance with Arizona statutes and district policy concerning curriculum.

Implementation of this resolution shall be consistent with guidance received from the federal court concerning the district’s desegregation cases.

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