UPDATE Today: Press Conference Raises Concerns on Ethnic Studies Changes

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Today at 3:30 p.m., the Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Committee will hold an emergency press conference in front of TUSD headquarters, 1010 E. 10th St.

According to an announcement regarding the press conference, its purpose is "to protest the recent and arbitrary administrative moves by TUSD that will have the effect of endangering the program further when it is support that is needed at this very critical time."

"The MAS board feels that these changes are counter productive and are direct attacks on the Mexican American Studies Program and its internal advocates. The board objects to these changes and strongly feels that it will produce a hostile environment to those who are directly responsible for the programs and who have been largely vested in its success," said the announcement.

We talked to Raul Aguirre, a community representative on the Mexican American Studies Advisory Board, who said that the board and other supporters of TUSD's ethnic-studies program are concerned that new TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone is beginning to make changes to Mexican American Studies that are the first step in dismantling the program, as five weeks remain before the state Public Instruction office makes a final decision on TUSD and the ethnic-studies classes.

Aguirre said the advisory board has been meeting with Pedicone and learned that he has begun steps that could lead to a full restructuring of the department, first making the classes service classes and not academic, which would make the classes electives and not classes that can be used for literature and history requirements.

The other change is bringing the department under the leadership of Lupita Cavazos-Garcia, assistant superintendent of government programs and community outreach, who moved here from Texas after being hired by former Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagan.

Aguirre said when his board met with Celania-Fagan and and Garcia before Celania-Fagan left Tucson for Colorado, they were told by Garcia that she's not a proponent of the program being academic, which statistics show that have the program as an academic model has helped in increasing test scores and graduation rates, particularly with Latino students.

"To turn back and make it a service program, an elective, is something we strongly disagree with," Aguirre said.
"And to put someone in charge of those programs, well, some of the members of the board feel again, that this is part of a set up to begin to dismantle Mexican American Studies in TUSD."

The Range has calls and e-mails out to Garcia and Pedicone seeking comment, and will follow-up with an update with their responses.

By e-mail Pedicone confirmed that organizational changes are underway, but that the classes will continue to be offered as academic offerings not electives.

Pedicone's response:

It is critical that we organize the District with some sense of reason and academic order. In the past, the Ethnic Studies programs (I know you know there are four of them - African American, Pan-Asian American, Mexican American and Native American) have been moved around where, either it was convenient, or where, when people complained about who was in charge of them, they put them under whoever seemed to cause they least concern, real or otherwise, to groups or individuals. Finally, under the last two superintendents who tired of dealing with the concerns, they were placed directly under the Superintendent. The result is that there has been no real
supervision of the programs and very little articulation with the Assistant Superintendent who deals with many of the same issues that they do and needs to serve as the connection between the district initiatives and their work.
This makes no logical, organizational or academic sense. So, I have simply organized the function in order to have the person under which their purpose "fits" supervise them. The other three ethnic studies programs are very
happy with this organizational structure. They understand it and support it. The Mexican American Ethnic Studies Program is not. That concern is also being framed with an untrue argument that there is an attempt to harm the program and that is the farthest thing from the truth. It is simply organizing the Ethnic Studies Programs where they belong to eliminate the prior arbitrary placement of them.

In a follow-up e-mail, we asked Pedicone to clarify if this restructuring will change the classes from academic offerings to electives. Our question: "So the restructuring does not change the way the classes are offered - they remain academic offerings and not electives or service offerings?"

Pedicone's response:

That is correct. My hope is that we will expand our reach for all of our students, not reduce the opportunities.

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