I was running a little late getting to the Tucson Unified School District governing board meeting last night from work, so I'm not sure how the very beginning of what took place transpired — how 10 TUSD students from the UNIDOS student coalition came into the board room at TUSD headquarters and chained themselves together on the dais where governing board members usually sit to conduct the district meetings.
Here is a video posted this morning by Three Sonorans’ blogger David Abie Morales that shows exactly what happened:
They placed a large white banner on the front of the dais—UNIDOS Presents The Youth School Board—and that's when, essentially, the students took over the board room and last night's meeting.
Governing board president Mark Stegeman was scheduled to present a resolution to the board with major changes to ethnic-studies classes, particularly those in the Mexican-American studies program, which would change the status of social science classes from core credit to electives.
As I walked inside the district building, about 100 to 150 people stood outside and in the building lobby. I had to squeeze inside, and it was obvious immediately that the air conditioner was off, and the board room was more than a typically packed house. It's important to note here—especially because ethnic studies supporters are often characterized by those against the classes and state Attorney General Tom Horne (who lobbied the state for the anti-ethnic studies law) as "thugs"—that everyone I had to squeeze by to get into the room was cordial, easy-going and smiling as I moved forward.
The students led the crowd in chants using mega-phones—"Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back." Inside the packed board room, there were easily another 200 people. Other students, not part of the group chained on the dais, stood and sat toward the front and middle of the room. At one point toward the end of the takeover, two students brought out a button-box accordion and a guitar and led the crowd in a few songs. It was a festive protest which ended with the students declaring victory and picking up trash on their way out of the building.
Other supporters — community activists and a group of Democratic Party leaders — mostly sat from the middle and to the back, standing on chairs and in every available space.
Police were on the scene, but stayed mostly outside and across the street from the TUSD headquarters. No arrests were made. About five minutes into the take over, TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone came outside with governing board members Michael Hicks, Judy Burns and Adelita Grijalva to address the crowd, but they were unable to because of the noise. Burns and Grijalva stayed until the end of the takeover. Grijalva was credited for turning on the AC, but people began delivering water into the building to pass into the board room.
Last week, Salomón Baldenegro Jr. began a Facebook and e-mail campaign to pressure Stegeman into pulling his resolution and to get local and state Democratic Party leaders to show up to last night's meeting to help, since Stegeman is a Democrat. Those in attendance included former state Representative Tom Prezelski, Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, Pima County Democratic Party Executive Director Adam Kinsey, Pima County Democratic Party Chair Jeff Rogers, Congressman Raul Grijalva staffer Ruben Reyes, state Senator Steve Gallardo, and state Representative Sally Gonzales.
Other community activists present included Casa Maria's Brian Flagg, attorney Margo Cowan, Salomón Baldenegro Sr., Cecilia Cruz, attorney Isabel Garcia and UA professor Roberto Rodriguez.
When it was announced that the governing board meeting was cancelled, the UNIDOS students read a 10-point resolution on ethnic studies: 1. We want our ethnic studies classes to continue to meeting core social science requirement; 2. We want the repeal of HB 2281; 3. We want ethnic studies programs to expand everywhere, from K-12 to university; 4. We want no school turn-arounds, no school closures and full support for Rincon and Palo Verde high school communities; 5. We want a TUSD governing board that is accountable and will stand up for all students; 6. We want an equitable education for all; 7. We want an immediate end to all racist, anti-immigrant, anti-indigenous policies; 8. We want full compliance with our civil and human rights; 9. We want Attorney General Tom Horne, state Superintendent John Huppenthal and Governor Jan Brewer immediately removed from power; 10. We want local control of our education.
The demand for removing Horne, Huppenthal and Brewer received the most cheers in the room.
It was announced that the meeting was rescheduled for May 5—yes, Cinco de Mayo.
Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel wrote last night that the meeting should have taken place in a bigger space—that the governing board should have recognized that a meeting discussing such a controversial topic demanded a larger venue. However, I reminded him this morning that it is difficult to take over a large venue; he agreed.
In today's morning daily, Pedicone confirmed that the May 5 meeting will be in a larger venue at one of the high schools.
Pedicone also stated:
"I think there's a great deal of frustration and misunderstanding regarding what Dr. Stegeman is working to do," Pedicone said. "I'm concerned that this creates an impression that the district is harming these students.
"There's no attempt to hide Mexican-American history and this board needs to have the opportunity to explore this option in the open, but that can't be done in this kind of situation."
On Facebook this morning, Salomón Baldenegro Jr. posted his father's thoughts and observations on last night's take over:
Estimados/as: I had a discussion with someone this evening about the action at the Tucson Unified School District headquarters in which students chained themselves to the chairs of the school board members as a statement against the proposal to marginalize the highly successful Mexican American Studies courses in the district. It seems that some folks saw the students' actions as "disruptive," "rowdy," etc.
Of course, the students' actions were rowdy and for an absolute fact they disrupted the meeting at which the anti-MAS proposal was going to be voted on.
Apart from all the historical, political,etc., arguments for keeping MAS courses in the core curriculum (i.e., count toward graduation requirements), I posited the question:
When was the last time you saw high-school students so passionate about learning history and literature that they went, en masse, to a school board meeting and risked arrest in order to DEMAND that they be allowed to take literature and history courses?
That in itself should serve as a huge clue to the author of the proposal that is being considered, (Democrat) Dr. Mark Stegeman, that he has stirred up a veritable hornet's nest by allying himself with the Mexican haters Tom Horne and John Huppenthal.
[The last time I remember that happening was during the high-school walkout era, to coin a phrase, in the late 1960s.]