The Tucson Unified School District superintendent in the middle of a push to have a radical Mexican-American studies class changed to an elective, has now backed down from his position, even going as far as to issue an apology. The change follows two wild demonstrations at consecutive school board meetings, one in which students chained themselves to desks, and another in which the riot police were called in.
Superintendent John Pedicone told local station KOLD-TV that he sent a letter to UNIDOS -- the radical student group opposing the change -- and the Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board saying he has now advised the TUSD governing board to "table and not consider the resolution to make Mexican American Studies an elective." (Quote is not Pedicone's, but rather KOLD's.)
Also contained in at least one of the letters is a promise that he won't recommend charges against those who were arrested during the rowdy protests.
"We simply have to kind of bring that level of anxiety down to where we can begin to talk reasonably about this program, which we, which I think the district has said from the very beginning it supports," Pedicone told KOLD. He later added: "I can't speak for individual board members or others, but from my perspective it's more important to bring the tone to a level where we can have a conversation and begin to have levels of understanding for the sake of the district. That's really my responsibility."
In the letters, Pedicone told both groups that he is recommending the board refrain from voting on the plan until the State Department of Public Instruction rules whether the Mexican-American studies program is illegal.
"The intensity of the discussion has reached a point where it makes it difficult to consider any resolution at this time," he writes in a letter to the Mexican-American Studies advisory board. "The deep-seated feelings surrounding this program, either as a result of a strong affiliation to its purpose or, in other cases, a rejection of the premise for its inclusion has created a counter-productive atmosphere that must be changed."
He concludes the letter by asking the board to "please accept my apologies for my role in the situation."
In his letter to the student group UNIDOS, he praises the students' input as "valuable" and requests a meeting to establish "open dialogue."
But as the Tucson Independent Daily points out, Pedicone's sudden change-of-heart is curious, considering that just over two weeks ago he wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Star outraged over the protests and saying the students were being "exploited" and used as "pawns:"
My immediate concern focuses on the events that led up to the decision on the part of a number of adults and students who engaged in an action that interfered with the operation of government.
The manner in which it occurred was, to many people inside and outside of the organization, shocking and abhorrent.
Some would have you believe this action was taken by a group of students who just made a plan to express their dissent. That is not accurate.
It is clear adults both helped to plan and influence the outcome of that night.
If you take a moment to examine the resolution by the student group, Unidos, you will see the demands include issues involving the Mexican-American Ethnic Studies program, the repeal of state laws, school closures and turnaround schools, United Nations human rights and the removal of state governmental officials.
In my opinion, students have been led to believe their basic rights to an honest discussion of their heritage are at risk. Students have been convinced the school district is attempting to eliminate a program that simply tells the truth and this action is associated with concerns about immigration and a broad range of issues at the state and federal levels.
Students have been exploited and are being used as pawns to serve a political agenda that threatens this district and our community. Just as high school and university students led the charge to the Governing Board dais on Tuesday, they are being used to lead the charge for those who wish to make this a civil rights issue.
"None of these ideas are radical and are certainly worthy of consideration," Pedicone added at the time. Radical, no. But unpopular, yes. And now, it seems, he's caved in the face of that unpopularity.