Nearly six decades after President Dwight Eisenhower overruled the "leadership of demagogic extremists" and sent federal troops to protect desegregation efforts in Little Rock, Arkansas, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild has more than one reason to be concerned about his city's negative image.
Amid national teach-ins on Tucson's banished Mexican American Studies program and denouncements by virtually every major education and literary organization on Tucson's harrowing censorship and book removals, plaintiffs represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed an extraordinary suit in District Court yesterday and called for outside intervention in Tucson's spiraling school crisis.
The suit charges that the Tucson Unified School District openly "flaunted" the authority of a District Court and Special Master oversight on desegregation orders in violation of a court-approved Post Unitary Status Plan:
TUSD's "suspension" of these courses follows years of neglect of its obligations to the District's Latino students under the PUSP including its obligations to address academic performance gaps as they impact Hispanic students. Mendoza Plaintiffs request that the Special Master and District Court enforce the PUSP and reinstate Mexican American Studies courses and teaching activities in accordance with the mandates of the Plan and direct the District to implement and regularly monitor in good faith all provisions of the Action Plan for Mexican American Studies as set forth in the PUSP.
The suit comes on the heels of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' appeal to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education and Department of Justice to investigate the Arizona state Department of Education for civil rights violations in their unabashed witch hunt on Tucson's Mexican American Studies program. Reminiscent of Eisenhower's warning of "demagogic extremists," Arizona state education chief John Huppenthal has referred to Mexican American Studies participants as Hitler Jugend, while Attorney General Tom Horne championed the bloody violence of Carthage in his calls for the acclaimed education program to "be destroyed." TUSD school board member Mark Stegemen referred to the Mexican American Studies program, which an independent audit praised last year for its diversity and inclusive approaches and higher graduation rates, as "cult-like."
Two years ago, Daily Show host Jon Stewart referred to Arizona's Tea Party-led legislature as the "meth lab of democracy" for its anti-immigrant and state's rights agenda. In 2012, saddled with an embarrassing and disgraceful desegregation order, Tucson and its largest school district under the leadership of Superintendent John Pedicone -- whose stunning arrest orders of elderly Mexican American women and scholars at a May school board meeting shattered community trust -- have become a modern-day version of Little Rock, Arkansas 1954.
While former Mexican American Studies teachers and community advocates work daily to assist students and sponsor community dialogue, the latest cringe-worthy acts of retribution and openly racist comments by Tucson Unified School District administrators and erratic board members are glaring reminders of Eisenhower's admonition that Little Rock's similar defiance of federal court orders had damaged "the prestige and influence, and indeed to the safety, of our nation and the world."
While thousands of nationally acclaimed books remain detained in locked storage bins -- with only a handful of copies in a few libraries -- TUSD administrators have cracked down on any student and faculty dissent through detention orders and suspension, issued conflicting mandates and called for the deeply rooted Tucson students to "go to Mexico" to learn their Mexican American history. In a notably offensive remark in a local radio interview yesterday, one board member compared the mentoring of suspended TUSD students by University of Arizona's Mexican American Studies faculty to the Penn State sex abuse scandal.
The questions beg: How much lower and blatantly racist will Tucson school officials go? Will Tucson community leaders, like Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, stand by and watch the reckless measures of "demagogic extremists"?
Or is Tucson simply waiting for a Little Rock, Arkansas intervention?