Cholla HS students walk out to protest the end of ethnic studies

The march by Cholla High School students reaches TUSD headquarters

Cholla HS students walk out to protest the end of ethnic studies

CREATED Jan 12, 2012 - UPDATED: Jan 13, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos
Web Producer:  Forrest Carr

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Dozens of Cholla High School students hit the street in frustration to protest the end of Mexican American courses. The classes were suspended yesterday, but many of the students clearly did not like it. They went to their first class today, then met as a group at the school  to talk about what they wanted to do. They decided to march to the district's office.

At a brisk pace, students from Cholla High School walked about 4 and a half miles, with police escorts, to the District office. They chanted "Our education is under attack. What do we do? Fight back." -- not really knowing what to expect when they got there.

They wanted to be heard because they said they were confused about the change to drop the Mexican American studies courses after a judge and state superintendent John Huppenthal ruled it promoted racism. "If they're saying they can't teach us to be racist, they never did so we don't know what we have to change. We're confused, we don't know what we did wrong," said student Clarrisa Carrasco. "We learned a lot in our classes, we don't know why they should take our classes away from us." Even though principals and teachers, yesterday, delivered the message as to why the program was dropped.

On Wednesday Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone said he had hoped the students would understand. "We're being prepared for the potentiality of certain actions to take place. We don't expect that will happen."

KGUN9's Valerie Cavazos asked Clarrisa, "What do you hope happens today?" She answered, "I just hope it opens their eyes to see that it's not wrong what we're doing." What they're doing is participating in social justice -- in the form of protests -- as was taught in some of the ethnic studies classes.
     Cavazos: "So what happens tomorrow -- if nothing happens today?"
     Student: "We're going to keep fighting, I think."
     Cavazos: "Are you going to keep not going to school?"
     Student: "No, we can find other ways, even if it's after school."
     Cavazos: "Is this the only time you're going to march like this?
     Student: "We need to figure out more things."

     In about an hour, they arrived at the district office with one clear goal.

     "Our plan is just to be heard," said John Lira, another Cholla HS student.
     Cavazos: "So how long are you going to be out here?"
     Student: "As long as it takes."

  They waited about 20 minutes before Dr. Lupita Garcia, who oversees the ethic studies departments, walked out the district's front door with a message of her own. "So I want to talk to you. I've never done that and this is the first opportunity to do so. Okay."  A student shouts from the crowd, "Thank you."

The students listened to Dr. Garcia spell out the reason -- on a professional level - as to why the Mexican American studies program was dropped. "If we decide to appeal, by the end of the semester we will lose 15 million dollars. That's a lot of teachers. This is not a way to fight city hall."

She also addressed the issue on a personal level. "I want you to have all the opportunities that I didn't have. Or that I could have had. And you have a great opportunity to get a great education. And that is how you fight city hall."
Dr. Garcia then opened the floor for comments or questions from the students. "It's all about us having a culture and history and they're trying to take it away from us," said one of the students.  Dr. Garcia answered, "You are who you are and no one can take that away from you - your character, your ethnicity, your culture."

Another student said, "You guys are pinpointing us to the kind of education we need. It's not always about the math, it's not always about the science. It's not always about the english. Some of us want to major in Mexican American studies, to keep our generation going. We study in our classes, every class. Not just what you guys want us to know." Dr. Garcia answered, "If you want your high school diploma, that doesn't keep you from learning about your culture."

But after several minutes, the crowd grew louder and Dr. Garcia went back into the building.   "I wnt to talk to you," she said, obviously frustrated by the shouting, "but I can't talk to you like that."

Despite the shouting, KGUN9 News observed the behavior of the students to be respectful overall. When the crowd got too loud, some students tried to intervene to tone it down.

When all was said and done, some students came away feeling that their concerns had not been addressed.
     Cavazos: "So after today, what happens?"
     Student: "I don't know."

Program supporters argue mexican american studies teaches valuable history and culture... but one component has been the center of the controversy -- social justice. Even the program's architect admits it may be a bit too much for high school students.

The past year of protests from student schaining themselves to seats at a board meeting to today's walkout and march to TUSD's headquarters stems from lessons taught in social justice classes.

KGUN9 News spoke with Marcos Rameriz after the demonstration.

      Cavazos: "You learned social justice right?"
      Student: "Yeah."
      Cavazos: "Is this protest part of the social justice education you're getting."
      Student: "Yeah it is."
      Cavazos: And what exactly do they tell you to do?"
      Student:" I know to get my word out. We have freedom of speech and the right to come out and protest."