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Education Reporter

Arizona District Encounters Scrutiny;
Criticism About Political Agendas in Schools
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The superintendent and a high school principal from Tucson Unified School District testified in front of the House Select Committee on Government Operations, Performance, and Waste during a public hearing held April 20 at the state capital.

TUSD, Arizona's second largest school district, received national attention when United Farm Workers of America co-founder, Dolores Huerta, gave a speech at Tucson High Magnet School on Monday, April 3. The activist urged students to begin a postcard campaign with the theme: "Republicans hate Latinos."

Huerta's speech followed several days of student walkouts, during which TUSD administrators and nurses were "deployed" to the Federal Building, where demonstrations were taking place. School resource officers accompanied marching students, and bus drivers were available to transport. TUSD established a "Command Center" and a separate "Situation Room," equipped with phone banks, computers, and fax machines, and staffed with district administrators and personnel. Food and water were provided to many students who were protesting.

Huerta's visit to TUSD's largest high school was the day after a march and rally organized by the Arizona Cesar E. Chavez Holiday Coalition in Tucson attracted about 10,000 participants, during a time of nation-wide protests and demonstrations against pending immigration laws. Dolores Huerta was the featured speaker.

Members of the Cesar E. Chavez Holiday Coalition include TUSD Mexican American Raza Studies and TUSD African American Studies departments, the TUSD Rose Wellness Center, the local community college, and several University of Arizona colleges and departments. The rally and the march began at TUSD's Pueblo High School. Parking was available at the school, and participants were encouraged to bring their school banners.

At an April 7 news conference, TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said Huerta "has been invited for the past I believe four years to take part in the Cesar Chavez celebrations in this city and this district and this was just part of what we've always done." He added, "I don't think the comments are inappropriate."

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta worked together for more than 30 years, organizing farm workers, obtaining collective bargaining rights, and demanding higher wages, improved safety, and better working conditions. Tactics employed included protests, strikes, and boycotts.

Their efforts helped bring legislation, such as the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. They lobbied against guest worker programs, and for the Immigration Act of 1985 that granted amnesty for 1,400,000 farm workers who were not citizens, but had worked and paid U.S. taxes for years.

Huerta is Vice President of the California AFL-CIO, Secretary-Treasurer of the United Farm Workers, and a founding board member of the Feminist Majority. She serves on the boards of Latinas for Choice and the Democratic Socialists of America. In 2003, California Gov. Gray Davis appointed her to the University of California Board of Regents.

Political activism  
In her passionate April 3rd speech to Tucson High students, Huerta said, "first of all, I just want to congratulate all of you that have been able to be out there, that have done the demonstrations at the school, on the street and the march that was held yesterday." She said there would be another chance on April 10 for those who hadn't participated.

Huerta told her audience "the protests and the marches made a difference," and advised, "we've got to keep on marching." Referring to H.R. 4437, introduced by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Peter King (R-NY), she stated, "we all know that's the Sensenstupido bill."

The Tucson High faculty member who introduced Huerta as "the prominent Chicana labor activist," acknowledged the presence of TUSD Governing Board president Adelita Grijalva, daughter of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Dr. Patti Lopez, TUSD Deputy Superintendent. He recognized Rep. Grijalva's aide, Reuben Reyes, in the audience: "Thank you for bringing Dolores here and talking to our students."

Huerta asked what about students who are "too young to vote" and would like to know, "how can I help?" She told them, "you can go out there and knock on doors to get people elected, you can pass out the leaflets, make the telephone calls." She urged: "we have to carry it on into the elections, ok?" Huerta said: "Can you imagine if everybody here in this room goes out there and helps a good person like Raul Grijalva get elected? What a difference that will make!"

Repeating a refrain from the marches and rallies, Huerta chanted, "We didn't cross the border," pausing, so the people assembled could emphatically fill in the ending with her: "the border crossed us."

She led students in acclamations: "Que viva MEChA!" (Long live MEChA! Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan or Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) and "Que viva Zapata!" Each time, the audience shouted, "Viva!"

Next, Huerta asked for the response, "Abajo!" (Down!) She led, and was accompanied by loud shouts of "Abajo!" after "Down with Proposition 200! Abajo; Down with the Minutemen! Abajo!" She also advocated abortion rights, gay marriage and women's rights.

The entire speech can be downloaded at: http://www.tusd.k12.az.us/contents/distinfo/addresses.html.

A week following the Huerta speech, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who is running for re-election, addressed a student assembly at Tucson High.

In 2004, the Arizona Attorney General published guidelines concerning the law prohibiting school district political activities, and the inappropriate use of resources and personnel. The Guidelines, are "intended to address possible ambiguous situations." The Guidelines also state that school board members and personnel "must not represent that they are acting on behalf of the school district or charter school while engaged in activities to influence the outcomes of elections."

School district equipment not to be used includes: "facsimile machines, computers, mailboxes, furniture, vehicles, postage meters, and internet connections. The term also includes any district communication networks, such as school newsletters, public announcement systems or devices, web pages and advertising space in student newspapers." Materials prohibited include, but are not limited to "food, cafeteria supplies."

Members of Arizona's House Select Committee on Government Operations, Performance, and Waste asked many questions of the school principal, Dr. Abel Morado, at the April 20 public hearing.

Rep. Jonathan Paton asked Dr. Morado if Grijalva had advocated for the passage of legislation, and Morado answered affirmatively. Paton then asked whether there was an opportunity for students who disagreed to say anything, and Morado responded, "No."

State law prohibits 
Rep. Rick Murphy cited A.R.S. 15-511, which prohibits the use of school district resources or personnel to influence elections, or "to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation." It also states: "employees of a school district or charter school may not use the authority of their positions to influence the vote or political activities of any subordinate employee."

When asked about Huerta's speech, Morado acknowledged, "yeah she crossed the line. Yes she did." Asked whether he thought her speech was "inflammatory," he said, "I would agree with that."

Rep. John Allen, who is Chair of the Committee, stated: "indoctrinating these children is one of their major goals besides educating," and declared: "The culture that seems to be festering in this school district is contrary to the education goals of this state. This is going to be a real test for this state on whether we can reel in this school district."

He spoke of a "culture of instigation" and concerns over "events that were cultivated in this school district," asserting "that the public will not tolerate" the continuation of such practices.

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