Below: report on the Tuesday, May 8, press conference by the Civil Rights Center and the community forum on TUSD suspension of MAS held by the two lawyers from the Department of Justice.
Targeting and Suspension of TUSD´s Mexican American Studies Program:
The Department of Justice Accepts Two Civil Rights Discrimination Complaints
and Steps in with a Special Master and Lawyers
Manuel de Jesús Hernández G.
Chair, Save Ethnic Studies in Arizona Committee
NACCS Rocky Mountain FOCO
After several major blows against Mexican American Studies (MAS)/Ethnic Studies in Arizona (a conservative legislature´s approval of HB 2281 in 2010, several accusatory district hearings held by a judge appointed by Governor Jan Brewer, successful threats to withholding millions of dollars from the school district if MAS continued holding classes, suspension of the Mexican American Studies Program by the TUSD School Board due to the fear of losing millions in funding, the dismissal or transferring of MAS teachers to other program, and the recent firing of MAS Director Sean Arce), the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), particularly its Civil Rights Division, has stepped in and appointed—similar to the Arpaio racial profiling case in Maricopa County–a special master and some lawyers for the purpose of mediating and arriving at needed resolutions between the Tucson Unified School District and Tucson community defenders of the highly successful Mexican American Studies Program.
The DOJ special master, by May 8, had already been working on the case for two weeks. Apparently, the reinstalling of MAS, in some form, is a possibility.
Civil Right Center Files Successfully Two Discrimination Complaints
Welcomed by concerned citizens in Tucson and all Arizona, the above development was publicly announced at a press conference on Tuesday, May 8, at 5:00 p.m.—outside the office of the Tucson Unified School District and prior to a scheduled meeting of the TUSD Governing Board—held by Silverio García, Executive Director of the organization Civil Rights Center (CRC), and Viva Samuel Ramírez, President of the same group.
The action on the part of the DOJ comes as a result of the Civil Rights Center successfully filing two discrimination complaints that highly document repeated civil rights violations during the targeting and suspension of Mexican American Studies by the Arizona legislature, the Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, the Arizona Superintendant and of Schools John Huppenthal, the TUSD Superintendant John J. Pedicone, some members of the TUSD board, and the Tea Party.
CRC has successfully filed two complaints. Dated April 18, 2012, the first one involves violation of the open meeting law (case # 08-12-1080 against the TUSD) and failing to provide language translation at a public meeting (case # 08-12-1119 against the AZ Department of Education). This first complaint also mentions the suspension of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program and not suspending other ethnic studies programs as well as the firing of Sean Arce, the MAS Program Director, in spite of having overwhelming support for renewing his contract. Dated May 3, 2012, the second one involved placing restrictions on a Latino public event without doing the same to events held by other ethnic groups (case # 08-12-1170 against the TUSD). See attached both successful complaints.
Richard Martínez, lead lawyer in the law suit against TUSD on the part of students and parents suing for the suspension of MAS, was present at the press conference. He observed that the TUSD district, over the past two years, has been highly successful in repressing MAS in Arizona. However, nationally, it is facing constant criticism and isolation. Among the developments, Mr. Martínez mentioned the vigorous criticism on TUSD’s book banning in the Luis Alberto Urrea interview by PBS’s Bill Moyers, the visit to Tucson by world renowned novelist Ana Castillo, and the editorial in the Huffington Post.
DOJ Lawyers Hold Open Community Forum on TUSD Discrimination Against Tucson Latinos
In addition to the appointed special master who is meeting and conversing with the members from both sides, two DOJ lawyers held an open meeting on Tuesday, May 8, after the CRC press conference, at the office of Chicanos Por la Causa in Tucson, Arizona. The two DOJ lawyers are Anurima Bhargava, Chief of the Educational Opportunities Section, and Zoe M. Savitsky, Trial Attorney in the same section.
At the two-hour community meeting, both attorneys listened to a wide spectrum of community members who have highly supported MAS and want it to be reinstated. They consider it a highly successful academic program with an intergenerational service component.
Among those offering testimony to Anurima Bhargava, were: a current county supervisor, several current and former students in the Mexican American Studies program, parents of such students, some dismissed or transferred teachers in MAS, several professors from the University of Arizona who have offered consultation to MAS teachers, some ASU professors, members of Chicanos Por la Causa, retired professors from Pima Community College, many TUSD alumni, a retired deputy superintendent, CRC’s Silverio García and Viva Ramírez, elected Tucson officials, concerned Ethnic Studies professors from across Arizona, MAS alumni who are now university students, and community lawyer Isabel García. Some of the attendees claimed residency of several generations in Tucson.
Ms. Bhargava opened the meeting saying that the DOJ, its Civil Rights Division, had come to Tucson in order to document the case from 1973 to the present and the research process would last two months. At such moment, those present mentioned several issues, among them: the favorable contribution of bilingual education to the Tucson community in the near past, the TUSD Governing Board shutting out students from public Board meetings, rude TUSD administrators like Lupita García who has called students stupid, the persecution of students who participated in demonstrations, the liberal treatment extended to an Anglo student who had brought a knife toa TUSD meeting, the overrepresentation of Latinos students in classes for the mentally challenged, the insult of telling US Latino students to go back to Mexico for Chicano history classes, the prohibiting of teaching about Martin Luther King, the monitoring of student essays for content, the teaching to Latino students by humiliation, the emphasis on Greco-Roman culture, the denial of MAS classes to 500-2000 students, the controlled student and community testimony at TUSD public meetings, the police at TUSD meetings inspecting for arms children and senior citizens in their 80s, the limiting of multicultural curriculum to conservative politically correctness, the need to reinstating MAS’ highly successful academic program, the future reconfiguration of MAS with 100 teachers and staff members, the reinstating of MAS’s effective college advising, the needed monitoring of TUSD on the part of the DOJ, the censoring of student speech at the César Chávez Unity Festival, AZ and TUSD officials calling MAS students little Hitlers, the need to end ELL classes as they isolate and discriminate against Latino students, and a reiteration of the call to reinstate MAS for its highly successful record in motivating students to attend college and make a contribution to the Tucson community.
Further Testimony Is Acceptable
Prior to adjourning the open meeting with the community, both DOJ lawyers offered to meet with any concerned community members at the individual level.
If you are interested in talking to either one of the two DOJ lawyers, please feel free to call or write: 1) Anurima Bhargava, (202) 514-8399 or firstname.lastname@example.org; 2) Zoe M. Savitsky, (202) 305-3223 or email@example.com. The both share a fax number: (202) 514-8337.
Manuel de Jesús Hernández G.