State Superintendent calls both sides of the MAS debate to the table

Protesters zip-tied themselves, and let loose with a smoke bomb at a chaotic TUSD meeting this week. The state Superintendent wants a summit.

State Superintendent calls both sides of the MAS debate to the table

CREATED Apr 12, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- It's been a heated school year for TUSD and the battle over Mexican-American studies. The state deemed the course illegal and that sparked chaotic meetings like the latest one on Tuesday.

This week, the TUSD Board voted to sever ties with the director of the now defunct program. Today,  State Superintendent John Huppenthal weighed in.

"There's a lot of sad things that have come out of this," said Huppenthal.

Sitting at the top of the helm of Arizona education -- Superintendent John Huppenthal is looking down at what he sees is a continuous chaotic mess of the now defunct Mexican American Studies program.

"It's a tragedy it came up here (to the state level). It's a tragedy now what happened to Sean Arce," said Huppenthal. He criticizes the TUSD board and district for its ineffectiveness. "It's part of the tragedy of the TUSD. They just simply were not able to come to grips with this controversy over many years. What should have happened in TUSD a long time ago - is that these issues should have come up to school board, they should have heard issues coming in from the community -- both sides. They shoud have adopted a curriculum for the MAS program, where people could look at week one -- what are they teaching -- week two. It should have been a completely transparent system."

And he said that lack of transparency helped fuel much of the fire. "These issues are very delicate and have been made more severe by the lack of attentiveness to these issues at a local level. We need to make sure we're teaching stuff that we can be proud of. That it's not sanitized. We know that there have been historical injustice in our history. And that we're proud that we always -- to the next generation -- make a more just nation -- a better nation. How you get that right -- is a very delicate matter. The stuff that's occuring in TUSD board is a product of people unwilling to confront issues for a long time," he said.

We tried to talk to Dr. John Pedicone today, but he was in a meeting. He did tell KGUN9 in an earlier interview that the district failed because it did not review the changes in instruction over time -- which ultimately led to the program's demise.   

"Right now we're in this stage of conflict and we need a cooling off period for a while," he said.

He scolds the TUSD board and district for its ineffectiveness in maintaining order and direction, but Huppenthal believes there's another element in the mix that's preventing the program from moving forward. "We know that there are people agitating this situation - that would like to get political advantage of it. So at this point we need to chill this all out."

Huppenthal would not specify who these people are -- only describing them as a collective whole.
He says to proceed with the program the district needs to invite these people to the table. "We shouldn't be shy about intellectually confronting the people who are behind this -- the people who would like a confrontation, but that discussion needs to come out to the table for a frank open discussion."

And he calls on Superintendent John Pedicone to take the lead to repair the relationships. "He's got the skill level, but the question is -- are these powerful factions going to take him down too or is he going to get the support he needs to turn that school district around. It's going to be up to the Tucson community that makes that decision."

And the state's role in all of this? Huppenthal answered, "We're going down there.  We're observing classrooms, that type of thing. There's a discussion going on."