TUSD delays public look at multi-cultural classes, but curriculum leaked
Tucson Unified School District abandoned an announced deadline to release the drafts of new multi-cultural courses for public comment Friday, but a source has leaked the documents to TucsonSentinel.com. The 200 pages of drafts, spread across 11 documents, outline proposals for the district's revamp of ethnic studies courses.
A court-ordered desegregation program is supposed to begin this fall, but planning — including the drafting of a new curriculum — is months behind schedule.
TUSD officials had said the drafts would be released Friday, but announced Wednesday that they were postponing the Governing Board's review of the course outlines.
"Preliminary indications from a recent review by the Arizona Department of Education define the need to strengthen alignment of the course curriculum with state standards and Common Core standards," district spokeswoman Cara Rene said in a news release.
"After ADE approval, the curriculum will be posted online for public review and comment," Rene said.
Multiple drafts have been developed, but "nothing has ever been finalized or approved," she said in an interview Friday.
While she wasn't able to offer a timeline, saying it's unknown how long ADE will review the drafts before providing feedback, "the community will still have an opportunity to weigh in on it," Rene said.
"I would hope that people would want the district to do what's right" in taking time in crafting the curriculum, she said, responding to questions about pressure from those who opposed and supported the previous Mexican American Studies program.
A source familiar with the back-and-forth between ADE and TUSD said the state agency declined to approve the draft because of issues not just with the Common Core standards but with content that might be considered political.
TUSD boardmembers were recently able review drafts of the curriculum, but were reportedly not able to keep copies of the documents. TUSD has denied public requests to release the drafts.
After a citizen's complaint, an official with the Arizona State Ombudsman's Office recommended that TUSD release the documents.
Assistant Ombudsman for Public Access Kathryn Marquoit said Friday that she told a TUSD lawyer a week ago that the records should be made public.
"I recommended that they disclose it," Marquoit said. "The presumption (for government records) is openness, and I didn't see anything that was strong enough to point to withholding."
The Ombudsman's Office is tasked with recommending which documents should be made public, but has no enforcement power under state law.
Although Rene indicated Friday that the documents were not being made public, TUSD staffers did release copies of the drafts to ThreeSonorans.com blogger David Morales on Wednesday — right about the time that Rene sent out the release announcing that the district would delay the Board review.
TucsonSentinel.com is not identifying the source of the drafts provided to us, which are undated and prominently stamped "DRAFT - Under Review" on every page.
The 11 documents provide curriculum outlines for 11th and 12th-grade English courses from Mexican American and African American viewpoints; 11th-grade U.S. history courses from Mexican American, African American and multicultural viewpoints; 12th-grade U.S. government courses from Mexican American, African American and multicultural viewpoints; and a 9th-grade course in "Culture, Identity and Transformation" (see list in sidebar, right).
Boardmember Mark Stegeman said that the documents should have been put out by the district, even though they haven't been finalized.
"By any common-sense interpretation, these are public records, and ought to be released," he said Friday.
Boardmember Kristel Foster declined to comment on the public records issue, saying she hadn't spoken with anyone in the Ombudsman's Office.
Calls to other Board members were not returned.
Months behind in planning
In January 2012, the Governing Board voted to suspend its controversial Mexican American Studies program, as the district faced the loss of up to 10 percent of its budget after state officials declared the classes illegal.
At the same time, the Board passed a self-imposed deadline to revise TUSD's social studies classes "to increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues."
A timeline submitted to the Arizona Department of Education in May 2012 called for a community review of the new curriculum between December and January.
This January, under a decades-long desegregation case, a federal judge ordered TUSD to institute a program of "culturally relevant courses of instruction designed to reflect the history, experiences, and culture of African American and Mexican American communities."
"Most of this (public input) never happened," Stegeman wrote to constituents in an email Wednesday, saying the work was "six months behind schedule."
"Staff has indicated that the work on the desegregation case became more complex than expected after the letter was written," he said.
"Regardless of whether the deadline was originally realistic, no curriculum for these courses appeared until last week, when Board members received the opportunity to review a hard copy of a “draft” curriculum available in the Board office," the first time they had seen the course plans, he said.
Stegeman said district staff dropped plans for the 9th-grade course after a May 7 meeting of the Governing Board, but that planning continues on the other courses, which are designed to satisfy a federal judge's desegregation order.
At the time of Friday's interview, Stegeman had not seen the documents posted on TucsonSentinel.com, and couldn't say whether they were the same drafts shown to Board members.
Stegeman said he had a "philosophical objection" to what he called "political content" in the drafts he reviewed.
In his email to constituents, Stegeman included several sections from those drafts, which he said he made notes on while reviewing.
Parts of the curriculum are "over the line," he said Friday, calling the curriculum drafts "a close cousin of the MAS courses" and characterizing it as "in broad terms ... left-wing."
"We should not be doing this in high school," he said. "You can't sterilize the curriculum, but I think we can understand there needs to be a degree of balance."
Boardmember Foster disagreed, saying, "I am proud of the comprehensive curriculum that the district created and the people who collaborated and reviewed the materials in the process of creating them."
Foster had also not seen the documents posted on the Sentinel at the time of her statement, but had examined a curriculum draft previously.
"The curriculum is hundreds of pages long. If you fish through the binder and create a one-page collection of lessons, the only thing that's being revealed is the perspective of the person cutting and pasting the page together," she said.
"It's like taking a line of text out of a book and saying the entire book is about that one sentence. We all know a quote out of context is meaningless. Handpicking 10 lessons out of a binder of hundreds in no way accurately represents these multicultural courses," said Foster, who emailed a statement after a short game of phone tag.
The source familiar with the negotiations between state officials and TUSD staff said that it's likely that proposed course content similar to that of the MAS classes that raised the ire of state Republicans has slowed the process.
According to all interviewed for this report, it's unknown how long TUSD will take to reply to ADE's concerns, how long another ADE review might take, or if further rounds of review may be necessary before the plans are presented to the Governing Board.
"The process may take longer than we hoped," Foster said, addressing court-mandated deadlines which called for the courses to begin this fall, "but that talks to the tremendous efforts and work that is being done and our commitment to a quality product."
"Yes there are deadlines in the USP, and these are to assure that the work is given attention and that we are committed to these classes, which we are. We are also committed to working with ADE so that everything aligns with state standards and state law," Foster said.