Board pres. admits 'mistakes were made' at TUSD meeting
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - After yet another out of control TUSD board meeting, the board president has admitted several mistakes were made.
Dr. Mark Stegeman told KGUN9 News he feels he could have done a better job appeasing the crowd at the meeting that resulted in the arrests of seven people. But at the same time, he believes certain people were intentionally trying to stop board members from proceeding with a meeting that could have determined the fate of TUSD's Ethnic Studies program.
The board was scheduled to vote on Dr. Stegeman's proposal that the courses be made into electives rather than core curriculum requirements. But the audience became unruly after a call to the public was closed after half an hour and police intervention was required to calm the crowd before the meeting could resume. In the end, the board decided to delay the vote and instead host an Ethnic Studies forum at a later date.
The out of control meeting is another PR nightmare for the school board, who already had to postpone the vote once before due to a raucous student-led demonstration at the April 26th meeting. Dr. Stegeman admitted he cold have handled Tuesday night's situation differently--namely, by allowing everyone to speak instead of cutting off public input and triggering the mayhem.
"I think I made a mistake by not going through the whole audience call list," Stegeman said. "We had half an hour set aside and I stretched that a little bit, but that left many people who had come wanting to speak not getting to speak. Even if it added an hour to the speaking time, I wish I had done that and just said 'look, we're going to go through the whole list and let everybody talk,' and that was my mistake."
A heavy police presence on Tuesday night drew criticism from some who said 80 to 100 officers was too much, and the enforcement too forceful. 9 On Your Side took these concerns to Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, who said his officers had no choice but to do their jobs after the board's request for a significant police presence.
"We were able to keep more than half the officers out of sight and away from the event, and just use 40-50 officers at one time in the event. But in such a small, confined area, even that can appear like a lot of officers," Villasenor said.
In response to claims of excessive force, he replied, "I would ask them to show any evidence of that. We video taped every single arrest that we did and the officers exercised extreme respect when they approached people."
Those officers were put to use when the uproar started. Officers sprang into action, trying to control the crowd. When some stood up in defiance and intentionally tried to interrupt the meeting, officers pulled them out of the room. All seven people arrested are adults. They are: Guadalupe Castillo; Caterina Sinclair; Wesley Narro-Castro, Brook Bernini; Amy Meller; Ann Yellott; and Maria Gallup. They were all charged with misdemeanor third degree criminal trespassing.
Although no students were arrested, they made their presence known. Some students even protested by putting silver duct tape over their mouths as a sign they were being silenced. Even after seven arrests and two disrupted meetings, TUSD board member Judy Burns told KGUN9 she can't condemn the students for their actions.
"I didn't see anything violent out of the students," Burns said. "Yes they interrupted our meetings, but they weren't being listened to either."
Dr. Stegeman said he understands the Ethnic Studies supporters want a dialogue with the TUSD board, but he found the outbursts unacceptable.
"I think various people made mistakes. I think there were people in the audience who were intentionally disruptive during the whole meeting and tried to prevent the meeting from proceeding. I don't think that's appropriate and I think we have to find some way to encourage people not to do that," Dr. Stegeman said.
Board members are now planning to hold off their vote on Ethnic Studies until they can host a public forum dedicated solely to the topic of Ethnic Studies at which every person would have a chance to voice their views.