Administrators, parents react to disruptive Raza Studies protest
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Students, parents, and TUSD administrators are still trying to determine the fallout from a dramatic display of civil disobedience.
"Our education's under attack! What do we do? FIGHT BACK!" students chanted as they rattled chains and banged table tops inside the Tucson Unified School District board room.
The protest was intended to prevent a vote on changing the Ethnic Studies program-- and it worked. TUSD board members were scheduled to vote on a proposal that would have changed the classification of Raza Studies. Currently, the are part of TUSD's core curriculum, but the proposal would have made them elective courses instead. Dr. Mark Stegeman, the TUSD board member who proposed the change, said it's a move to save the embattled program, which could get the ax at the end of the year if it is found to be in violation of HB 2281, a new law banning classes that teach ethnic solidarity. Ethnic Studies supporters have said the proposal is a move to shut down the program completely.
The vote never happened. Moments after the meeting convened, a crowd of students rushed the room, chanting and chaining themselves to the TUSD board members' chairs. The board agreed to end the meeting and postpone the vote.
Raza Studies supporters were jubilant, and a raucous celebration spilled out of the board room and into the streets surrounding the TUSD building. One thing is certain--the rush to the TUSD board meeting was no rush in judgement. But some are wondering if the Tuesday night's well-organized protest was something they learned to do in the classroom. Student protesters insisted that the idea for the protest did not come from Ethnic Studies classes. Some went so far as to call those who believed that "ignorant."
Angelica Penaran, an Ethnic Studies student, told 9 On Your Side that the demonstration was carefully planned out by a group called Unidos.
"We're just a bunch of students who are tired of politicians making changes to our education. So we meet every Saturday and this is something we decided to do as students," Penaran explained.
Dr. Stegeman, who proposed the vote to make Raza Studies into elective courses, squarely took the blame for the board for the chaotic scene.
"The students engaged in a very rapid and well-coordinated maneuver to, in just a couple of minutes, seize control of the dais and let people in the room. And we weren't prepared for that, frankly," Dr. Stegeman said.
On the streets outside the TUSD building, Ethnic Studies supporters played music, danced, and cheered over the news that the meeting had been canceled. But the celebration wasn't so harmonious for those who had come to the meeting to voice their opposition to the program. Nina Samuels and Pat Sexton are U.S. citizens from Guatemala and Peru, respectively. They wanted to speak out against Raza Studies, but when the meeting was canceled, they found 9 On Your Side instead.
Samuels said students in the Mexican-American history courses are being taught that the U.S. still belongs to Mexico.
"This is pure hate, and they're racist," Samuels told KGUN9. "The people inside are racist, they hate white people and think they [white people] hate them."
Sexton added that Mexican-American Studies teaches students that immigrants did not cross the border, but instead the border crossed them.
"These children are being indoctrinated, not taught. They are pawns for a bigger purpose!" Sexton said.
Then, just like the TUSD vote, KGUN9's interview was interrupted by an unidentified woman who heckled the two Ethnic Studies critics and criticized KGUN9 for only covering one side of the story. 9 On Your Side reporter Joel Waldman then explained to the woman that KGUN9 had two crews on the scene--one covering the Raza Studies supporters and one covering those who oppose it.
Despite angry shouts from the crowd, Samuels and Sexton told KGUN9 they're not afraid to share their views. Both women plan on attending the next meeting, which is scheduled for May 5.
Meanwhile, the question remains--was this protest planned by a group of passionate students, or is it the product of the Ethnic Studies classes themselves? KGUN9 brought that question to TUSD's superintendent, Dr. John Pedicone.
"Do I think they're being encouraged to come out and demonstrate like this? I can't tell you if that's happening or not," Dr. Pedicone answered. "If you want my opinion, sure. That's part of what's even discussed in videos the course describes."
The postponed vote has been rescheduled for Thursday, May 5 at 5:30 p.m. at Catalina High School. Board members expect a big turnout, so the meeting will be held in the school auditorium in order to accommodate everyone who wants to attend.