Certain books may or may not be banned in the now-extinguished Mexican American Studies classes - but reporters certainly are.
That's too bad. Not for me, although I had requested permission to visit a classroom. I am curious to see and hear how the students and their teachers are reacting to the Tucson Unified School District board's decision to kowtow to the state's intrusion on local curriculum.
It's too bad for the district, which should open up the classrooms to say to the state, "We're in compliance!"
The district, however, would rather keep out reporters in the hope the issue will go away, so it seems.
Not so, said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone. Keeping reporters out is in the students' best interests, he argued. He doesn't want me or other journalists to disrupt the students' learning.
It's an emotional issue, inside and outside of the classrooms, and it's best for the clamor to settle before reporters will be allowed inside, Pedicone said.
The district's concern over the disruption of MAS classes goes only so far. The day after the Jan. 10 board decision not to fight the state's attack on Mexican American Studies, district staff entered the classrooms to remove certain books.
The books were banished to a storage room, said the school district. They were banned, said MAS supporters. Either way, they're gone.
At Palo Verde High Magnet School, a teacher entered Jose Gonzalez's first-period class to remove the allegedly subversive materials.
"She felt embarrassed," Gonzalez said of the teacher.
But not everything is quiet. The furor outside is loud.
Inside the classrooms it's confusing, Gonzalez said. The district has left the teachers and students in a lurch. He has asked for help creating new classroom plans that will not put him at odds with the district and the state Legislature.
"We hear different things from different people," said Gonzalez, who has taught for 17 years in Tucson. "We have been placed in a difficult position."
Gonzalez said he and the other former MAS teachers have to walk a narrow line on what they teach. Step out of that line and the weight of the state and district could fall on them, he said.
I don't blame the teachers for feeling this way. For more than four years, MAS teachers and students have been political targets of the state government. The Republican Legislature and the governor singled out TUSD's MAS program and wrote a narrow law declaring it illegal. To drive home the point, the state said it would deny the cash-strapped district nearly $15 million if it didn't ax the program.
The school board could have bravely stood up to the state Legislature's overreach - in the same way the Legislature squawks at the federal government. But the board folded, not surprisingly.
The TUSD board and top administrators never fully supported the MAS program, which was the fruit of the demands and dreams of Chicano parents, students and educators over the past 40 years.
"A year ago my classes were full," said Gonzalez. This year his classes are not.
He and other MAS teachers were not allowed to recruit students. Other administrative initiatives squelched the program even before State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal declared it unlawful, with the help of TUSD board members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman.
While MAS students and teachers never really had a chance, they didn't give up, even as their passion and goals were questioned and vilified. Neither will the students, their parents and teachers give up their fight in the wake of the governing board's decision to capitulate.
For now, the students and teachers are banned.
Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1-520-573-4187.