Tucson School Update: Board Fires Award-Winning Mexican-American Studies Director

Courtesy: GoldenGateExpress.org

By Arturo R. García

The fight to keep Mexican-American Studies alive in Tucson, AZ, suffered a defeat Tuesday night — but one supporters of the program vowed to reverse come election time.

“You’re done Cuevas!” someone shouted at Tucson Unified School District board member Miguel Cuevas, who was part of the majority in the 3-2 vote not to renew MAS Director Sean Arce’s contract. “In November you’re out!” According to the board’s website, both Cuevas and board president Mark Stegeman’s current terms expire at the end of the year. Stegeman and Michael Hicks, who was featured last week on The Daily Show, joined Cuevas in the majority vote.

Before casting one of the two dissenting votes (with Alexander Sugiyama), board member Adelita Grijalva warned her colleagues against letting Arce go.

“We’re the laughing stock of a nation,” she said. “It’s going to hurt us economically.”

Tensions were high throughout the meeting, which ran for more than three hours to accommodate more than 40 citizens who addressed the board in favor of the program, which board members had said would be cut for budgetary reasons. At one point, the board went into a one-hour recess after chants of “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist TUSD” began to fill the board room. When the meeting resumed prior to the vote, extra security guards could be seen standing between the board and the audience.

According to the Tucson Sentinel and other outlets, at least one smoke bomb was set off in the room after the vote was cast, and other demonstrators outside “pounded on the walls and windows” of the district’s headquarters.

Board members quickly adjourned and left the room following the vote, and the video stream for the meeting was cut. The stream can still be accessed at the district’s Livestream channel.

Arce’s dismissal comes just over a week after he was selected by the Zinn Education Project as the first recipient of the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People’s History, named after the co-founder of Highlander Folk School in Tennessee:

“Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program gets it absolutely right: Ground the curriculum in students’ lives, teach about what matters in the world, respect students as intellectuals, and help students imagine themselves as promoters of justice,” Zinn Education Project co-director Bill Bigelow said in the press release. “I’m thrilled that the Zinn Education Project is able to honor the work of Sean Arce by recognizing him with the first Myles Horton Award for Teaching People’s History. Mr. Arce has begun work that we hope will be emulated by school districts throughout the United States.”

Before the current board met Tuesday night, a group of former members delivered a letter calling on board members to provide a better example to the community. The Arizona Daily Star published what it called a draft of the letter.

“We implore you to shift from the negative attention that is now focused on MAS to positive attention on countless matters critical to the education of students in TUSD,” it read. “We encourage you to conduct yourselves in a manner that unifies rather than divides, and that you work together as a group to build community, rather than to erode it. Tucson has a long tradition of celebrating our community’s diverse cultural heritage, and in seeking solutions to our problems through respectful dialogue.”