Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
In an editorial this past Saturday, the Arizona Daily Star took aim at Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program Director Sean Arce for canceling the annual Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Mexican American Students Awards Ceremony, a 10-year tradition.
Thanks to information provided to them by MAS supporters, just a few days earlier, the Star broke the story of the TUSD personnel action against Arce for canceling the event. Apparently, Arce took it upon himself to cancel the long-standing tradition to honor all Mexican American students without consulting his supervisor, Assistant Superintendent Lupita Cavazos-Garcia. In May, Cavazos-Garcia met with him, encouraged him to have the event on May 21, and offered resources. From the Star…
The following morning Cavazos-Garcia emailed Arce asking if he had secured a location [for the ceremony]. Arce responded with four reasons the district shouldn’t reschedule and noted that he would be in California that weekend speaking about Mexican American Studies at a conference [which was actually a Save Ethnic Studies fundraising event].
The reasons cited were: the certificates of recognition already had been sent out to students; the Mexican American Studies Department wouldn’t be able to put in the effort required to put on the ceremony; any attempt to reschedule would be interpreted as halfhearted and disingenuous; and dozens of parents of Mexican American Studies students were extremely upset because of developments surrounding the program, so rather than allow for an escalation of a delicate situation, he believed that it was best to let cooler heads prevail.
Arce disobeyed his supervisor’s direct request, and this, in turn, led to official disciplinary action against him.
The Star’s Saturday editorial strongly supported Cavazos-Garcia’s action, and so do I.
So it’s puzzling why the program director, Sean Arce, would unilaterally decide to scrap the traditional end-of-the-year awards ceremony that honors the achievements of Latino students. He has been reprimanded for the decision, and we believe rightly so, because canceling the celebration robbed the community of the chance to come together and celebrate the hard work and well-deserved honors the kids have earned.
If the true purpose of the Mexican American Studies program is, as its literature states, to lift students up through education, to help them forge strong community bonds and develop pride in themselves and their roots, then they should have the opportunity to do that.
If the Mexican American Studies program exists to further the political and academic careers of the adults involved, then they should be upfront about those goals. Canceling the awards ceremony takes the focus away from the kids, and puts it on the adults, where it doesn’t belong…
Caught in the middle are the tens of thousands of students in TUSD schools who are in need of a good education that will prepare them for college or work and make sure they have a sense of belonging.
A relatively small percentage of high school students find this connection in the MAS classes, but the need is much greater.
So it is distressing that Arce, the MAS program director, took it upon himself to cancel an event that affected a large number of students – not only kids who take the MAS classes, but all Latino kids.
I think the Star’s editorial writer was spot on. I think using the right-wing’s approval or disapproval of the ceremony as an excuse not to hold it is lame. High school graduation is a major right of passage for students and their parents. Arce’s action diminished their experience; the disciplinary action is wholly justified.