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Tucson Militarizes Public School Board Meeting

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DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: After chaining themselves to board member chairs and occupying the Tucson Unified School District building during a meeting on April 26, students from the UNIDOS youth coalition were able to stop a vote from taking place on the future of the district’s Mexican American Studies program. When they returned for the rescheduled vote a week later on May 3 to stage their own board meeting outside, they were met by over 100 police officers. The deployment included riot police, a SWAT team, a helicopter squad, a K9 unit, several blockades outside, and heightened security screenings for those who were allowed to enter the TUSD building. Elisa Meza of UNIDOS feels that the police presence was excessive and demonstrates the militarization of civil discourse in Arizona.

ELISA MEZA, ORGANIZER, UNIDOS: Public decision-making in Arizona definitely is not prepared to see such a mobilized and vocalized movement against them, especially decision makers on education. They aren’t prepared to see such well-put-together, well-organized community in opposition to what they want to do to our education. The fact that they had to militarize their own decision space, the fact that they had to militarize the area surrounding it from us and to protect them from us–and that’s exactly what it was; it was protecting them from us. And the minute they created those borders, the minute they created those blockades, they told us that they weren’t ready for our voice. They’re the ones protecting themselves from us, instead of them representing us as voices and an education system and the state as whole.

DOUGHERTY: Seven women were arrested for criminal trespassing after disrupting the meeting inside the building. The arrestees claimed they were not allotted enough time for dialog during the brief call-to-the-audience portion, and they continued speaking after being denied a request for a time extension. They were handcuffed and escorted by police to unmarked vans in the back, where a crowd of supporters outside attempted to create a human blockade in order to prevent the vans’ departure. Among the arrested was disabled 69-year-old professor Lupe Castillo, who is respected in the community for her decades of work in teaching and advocating for Mexican-American History in Tucson. Arizona has been gaining increasing international attention as the site of an emerging civil rights struggle in part due to the passage of legislation like anti-immigration bill SB 1070 and the banning of ethnic studies with SB 2281.

MEZA: A new civil rights movement in Arizona has definitely formed in a really, really beautiful way, in that in this state, intersectionalities have occurred, intersectionalities between youth, between labor rights movement organizers, between immigration rights movement organizers, between every sort of ally in Arizona, has definitely seen the force that is affecting all of us as a whole, and that because we’re able to make those intersections, because we know the connection between immigration to education, that those connections are connecting us, physically, mentally, and that this movement is about all movements now, that this movement in this state has to intersect everything. We are the people. We are the people that are being affected by this. And the fact that we can make these connections is disempowering the power that be in Arizona. And they’re seeing it and they’re feeling it. And the fact that they see this happening, this collectivity, this analysis on them and people like Brewer and Horne and Huppenthal and Pedicone–they all know that we’re looking at them and they know they’re being analyzed at this second. So even though they might have private auditors going to ethnic studies classrooms, that we’re the ones that are being well read and we’re being well versed. And now that everyone is together in this, it’s powerful, and that this civil rights movement is about intersecting all of our human rights and not just one.

DOUGHERTY: The $170,000 audit of Tucson’s ethnic studies program carried out by private Texan company Cambium Learning Group Inc. was recently submitted to the state department of education. If found to be in violation of SB 2281’s state ban on ethnic studies, the school district could lose 10 percent of its state funding. The vote on the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program was once again delayed on May 3 after the governing board president Mark Stegeman, who is in favor of the resolution, has said that the board plans to organize a community forum before proceeding. Students are concerned that should the classes become elective courses rather than core courses, they will be difficult for students who need core credits to graduate to take if Mexican-American history does not have the same graduating credit status as courses like American and European history. They could also be more susceptible to education budget cutbacks, as elective courses are often targeted first. On May 10, the UNIDOS youth coalition held a press conference outside the TUSD building, where they listed their demands and expressed their defiance to the state of Arizona and SB 2281.

DANIEL MONTOYA, UNIDOS: As a community, we demand that Stegerman’s resolution be withdrawn indefinitely. We demand that the ethnic studies program be expanded to accommodate all grade levels to help prevent as many dropouts as possible, and we demand that TUSD join the 11 teachers’ lawsuit against the state or file their own. If our demands are not met or addressed, the TUSD school board will be held accountable for their actions once more.

DOUGHERTY: State superintendant John Huppenthal is expected to issue his findings on the audit of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program next week as the struggle over the future of ethnic studies in Arizona continues. This is David Dougherty with the Real News Network.

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