UNIDOS holds all-night vigil before Huppenthal's ethnic studies decision
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Yet another chapter in the embattled Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies: State Superintendent John Huppenthal will announce his decision Wednesday on whether it complies with state law, after a months-long audit of the program.
UNIDOS Youth Coalition called for an all-night vigil Tuesday at district headquarters as a last rallying cry, with students trying to promote community awareness of the program.
At the very heart of the debate over TUSD's Mexican-American studies program is learning; both sides think they know what is most beneficial for students.
"I think a lot of the students get a lot of disconcerted ideas about where there country is and it stands for," said Ron Thompson, president of Arizonans for Border Control, adding that he believes the district needs to be further immersed in what goes on in classrooms, because the material students learn could do more harm than good.
However, Daniel Montoya, a member of UNIDOS, said people have misperceptions about the program and it actually helps guide students: "Identity and finding yourself, your roots, and once you know where people have been, it's easier to find out where you head in life."
Where the program heads hinges on Huppenthal's decision -- a call as to whether it violates new state law which, among other things, forbids ethnic solidarity or overthrowing the U.S. government.
"None of these ethnic studies classes meet the basic philosophy of our public schools in Arizona or the United States," Clyde Phillips told board members during their meeting Tuesday night, explaining his opposition of the program.
Board president Dr. Mark Stegemen put forth a proposal to change the classes into electives, but disruption by students at previous board meetings delayed their vote. Board member Adelita Grijalva said that proposal, if passed, would have been the beginning of the end for the program.
"The numbers would continue to dwindle until, budgetary-wise, you could say there's no support for the program because students aren't opting to choose it," Grijalva told KGUN9 News.
However, both sides expect Huppenthal's decision to be a game-changer, and may impact tactics to save ethnic studies. KGUN9 News asked Montoya about student tactics to disrupt previous board meetings -- and that was interpreted by many critics as proof that ethnic studies classes teach disobedience.
"We were backed up in the corner. There was nothing we could've done. We knew that point was going to be made but we had to do whatever we could," Montoya said.
If Huppenthal decides that the program violates state law, TUSD has 60 days to come up with a plan for compliance – or it could lose millions of dollars in funding.