At noon today, Alison Harrington, pastor of the Southside Presbyterian Church, joined other Tucson-area clergy in front of Tucson Unified School District headquarters at 1010 E. 10th St. at a press conference to explain their concerns about how the TUSD governing board has responded thus far to ethnic-studies classes and students.
“We really believe it is time for clergy to stand with the students and to urge the school board to not take a vote on the future of ethnic studies at this time,” Harrington said.
The clergy will stay through the day and into the early evening, when the TUSD governing board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. at TUSD headquarters to take up where it left off last week, when TUSD students and alumni took over the board room and meeting, forcing the board to cancel the meeting.
The agenda remains the same and includes the resolution TUSD governing board president Mark Stegeman is expected to bring up for a vote—which would change Mexican-American studies history and government classes from core for-credit classes to electives.
“We’re going to be asking people to come by and be in prayer for the school board. … They are feeling pressure from all sides, and we’re hoping they will make the right choice and listen to their community and their students and not take a vote tonight,” Harrington said.
Harrington, other clergy and members of her congregation have been concerned about the future of ethnic studies since HB 2281 was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last year, effectively making ethnic-studies courses illegal in the state.
“We’ve also been concerned for a long time that the school board wasn’t being responsive to the youth, and not being responsive to the community. … We felt we really needed to step up and show support for the students. They certainly have come under attack the past week. We want them to know we support them and we support their program, and we’re not supportive of the actions of the school board,” Harrington said.
Harrington said the presence of armed security and the metal detectors expected at tonight’s meeting is especially troubling.
“It is appalling to us that this is their response rather than (to) have a real dialogue,” she said.
According to TUSD board member Adelita Grijalva, there is going to be a 30-minute call to the audience, and those who signed up to speak last week will be allowed to speak tonight.
Grijalva said the decision to have armed security and metal detectors was made during the agenda committee meeting.
“I was sitting there, and the impression I got was that, ‘We need to regain our control,’” Grijalva said.
Moving the meeting to Catalina High School was discussed, but Stegeman and TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone decided to keep it at TUSD headquarters rather than opening the meeting up to more people in the community.
Grijalva said she's troubled that Pedicone and Stegeman don’t seem to realize their actions are partly responsible for the division in the community.
“Hiring off-duty police officers — that’s another thing. We are supposedly a crash-strapped district, but we're hiring off-duty officers and paying our own security overtime,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva said she was surprised at the outcome of last week’s meeting. She thought Pedicone understood where the students were coming from and said he mentioned that the actions reminded him of Chicago in the 1960s—but the next day he had a different perspective.
“He really is convinced it is an adult agenda, but that undermines the work the students put into this. Yes, there were many adults in the room last week, but they are supportive of the students. There are many different people in support of ethnic studies. That’s part of what’s being lost in this conversation. This isn’t just about TUSD, but other schools in the state and other states. We’ve seen that this kind of legislation tends to get picked up in other states. This is also not just an issue for K-12, but universities and junior colleges. That’s why I just feel this is a battle we need to win for everyone in our state, not just the 2,000 kids in ethnic-studies classes,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva said Pedicone’s actions are also troubling in that he’s made it seem like Stegeman is the only one responsible for putting the resolution on the agenda. On the agenda committee, Pedicone is the second vote, and he and Stegeman voted to put it on the agenda. Judy Burns is the other member of the agenda committee, and she did not vote to put the resolution on the agenda.
“Why before the end of the school year? Why before the audit is released by the state? If they feel it will get rid of this issue — I don’t know why — they are mistaken,” she says. “They’ve said, ‘We need to focus on other business,’ but what I’ve said is, ‘No one is stopping you from doing that; you are.’ This will change the image of the district and with everything we are going through. It is the worst PR you can have.”