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Ethnic studies

TUSD ousts MAS director in chaotic meeting

Demonstration included human chain, smoke bomb, and shoves from security

Tucson Unified School District's Governing Board fired MAS director Sean Arce in a split vote Tuesday night, after chanting protesters delayed the decision. Despite impassioned pleas and a demonstration that saw supporters zip-tie themselves together and set off a smoke bomb, the board voted 3-2 to not renew his contract.

A call to the audience lasting over two and a half hours saw nearly four dozen supporters of the Mexican American Studies program alternately berate the board and praise Arce.

No one rose to speak against the program during the meeting.

Speakers displayed anger, tears, raised voices and sometimes quiet dignity as they pleaded for the board to retain Arce and restore MAS classes, which were eliminated in January.

Michael Corio, the executive director of Tucson's AFSCME union local, decried what he called a "draconian system of justice" in the district, and pledged the support of the union — which represents government workers but not local teachers — for the program.

Erin Cain-Hodge, an alumna of the program, warned board members up for election, "I'd like to let you know that we're coming for you."

Sally Rusk, a teacher at Pueblo Magnet High School, said of Arce, "We're eternally grateful for his commitment to the community."

"There are people in this state who object to students learning their history," said Jerry Horton, speaking quietly. "Not all of them are north of the Gila."

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"These young people will win, and we will win with them," he said.

Throughout the meeting, many audience members catcalled at board member Michael Hicks to resign, referencing his recent less-than-stellar appearance on "The Daily Show."

Some held masks of a cartoon of Hicks by artist Arnie Bermudez.

Occasional references to Hicks' "Daily Show" appearance drew wry smiles and chuckles from some board members, including Board President Mark Stegeman and member Miguel Cuevas.

But some audience members pressed their point on a more serious note.

"I believe you prefer our children in prison than graduating from these high schools," said Isabel Garcia.

"Sean Arce should stay and you should leave, Mr. Hicks," she said.

Hicks wasn't the only target. "Who's this guy, Stegeman's pet?" asked Ricardo Bracamonte of Cuevas.

While TUSD officials said Arce's contract was not renewed for budget reason, he said Tuesday night that it was payback for his outspoken support for the program.

On a motion by board member Adelita Grijalva, the usual 45-minute audience call was extended to three hours, to ensure that anyone who wished to speak would have the opportunity. To lengthen the time for public input, several agenda items were delayed until next week's meeting.

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When the stack of speaker's cards ran out about 10:40 p.m., a group of MAS students and alumni linked their wrists with plastic ties and began to chant.

Calls of "no justice, no peace, no racist TUSD" and "Whose education? Our education" rang out in the packed TUSD board room. 

The board members left the dais after Stegeman declared a recess due to the protest. As a half-dozen TUSD security staffers blocked any movement toward the front of the room, about 16 protesters pulled out zip-ties and linked themselves together. About 25 more joined in the chanting.

Stegeman made several appearances at the dais, explaining that the meeting wouldn't continue until everyone took their seats.

After a delay of about one hour, the board returned and quickly took a vote, even as the audience remained standing, and catcalled to board members.

Arce's contract was not renewed, with Grijalva and Alexander Sugiyama dissenting.

As the vote was taken, the protesters resumed chanting, and at least one smoke bomb was set off in the board room. Demonstrators outside the building pounded on the walls and windows of TUSD headquarters. Some of the protesters indoors pulled out surgical masks to avoid the smoke.

The board and TUSD staffers swiftly filed out of the room, and the protesters continued chanting for about 10 minutes.

As they began to filter outside to join the demonstrators who remained on the blocked-off street, TUSD security personnel crowded against the remaining protesters. Several of the school safety officers pushed a group of protesters, still tied together at the wrists, through the doors of district headquarters.

As some of the demonstrators asked the TUSD officers to let them leave peacefully, a shoving match broke out, resulting in more TUSD security piling on a small group of youthful protesters in the gutter just outside.

As some in the crowd tossed water bottles, striking at least one security officer in the shoulder, others chanted "Let them go."

Onlookers and media gathered around the scrum, until one stocky TUSD officer erupted from the group, shoving a number of people, including this reporter, who was dragged by the security staffer at least 10 feet as he yelled "Get out of our way."

None of the other TUSD security officers followed him, and he walked off as members of the crowd chuckled in his wake.

Around the corner, about 14 Tucson Police Department cars and three police vans were parked in a vacant lot, but the sizable contingent of TPD officers didn't make an appearance at the district's headquarters.

Most of the protesters left quietly and quickly, with the majority clearing the street in front of TUSD's district office within 20 minutes of the vote.

Earlier, before the public session of the board meeting began at 8 p.m., about 200 demonstrators spent two hours dancing and chanting in front of TUSD's offices. Some handed out bean burritos, a mocking reference to Hick's claim on "The Daily Show" that MAS teachers bonded with students by buying them burritos.

Hicks said that his comments on the comic news program were edited and taken out of context to increase their satirical value.

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MAS courses were eliminated in January. when TUSD dropped the program after it was effectively banned under a state law.

Arce maintains his firing is retribution for his being outspoken in pushing the board to keep the program. He admits to being disciplined several times, but said his run-ins with TUSD administrators were the result of his not being willing to cooperate with them in ending the program.

Arce's salary was $84,865.

He said he plans to work as an educational consultant and speak to teachers and administrators around the country about ethnic studies programs.

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1 comment on this story

Apr 11, 2012, 8:15 am
-0 +0

Wow Dylan…sounds like you had a rough night. I guess the life of a reporter can be demanding at times! :)

That said…I don’t get the outrage. The MAS people lost. That being the case, it makes absolutely zero sense to pay someone $84k a year to administrate a dead program. I read Arce was offered an assistant principal spot at another school and said no. That doesn’t make much sense to me, either. The public gets outraged that the taxpayers pay Roy Flores to do nothing, but when TUSD wants to cut Arce because he has nothing to do they’re still outraged. I am so confused. :(

As a former member of AFSCME local 449, I am very disappointed to read that they interjected themselves into this mess. I wish someone from there will give the public an answer that makes sense as to why they got involved at all.

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Click image to enlarge

Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.com

MAS supporters chant, interrupting a TUSD Governing Board meeting Tuesday.