No matter how heated things get surrounding MAS, the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program, the stated intent has always been to help kids through education. Administrators say this, teachers say this, the students and parents say this.
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.
Opponents of MAS, including powerful Republican state lawmakers, want it shut down, and some MAS supporters are so entrenched that any hint of change is viewed as a betrayal.
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.
Arce was formally reprimanded for deciding without consulting his supervisors - the Mexican American Studies Department is still part of the Tucson Unified School District - that the ceremony just wasn't doable this year. He told Assistant Superintendent Lupita Cavazos-Garcia in early May that there was a problem with the venue at the University of Arizona and that he wasn't sure about funding.
Cavazos-Garcia offered solutions to those problems - hold the event at a TUSD high school, and she offered assistance from the 14 other departments she supervises, and said Arce would have access to $4,000 in funding.
He said he was concerned that parents of some Mexican American Studies students were upset about what's been happening with the program recently (a state audit, a proposal for change from the Governing Board, likely action from the state Department of Education and heated public protests) - as well as the chance that an event for Mexican American Studies could bring out detractors who would harass kids and their families.
Arce's been outspoken in his advocacy of MAS, so it's ironic that he's now concerned that it could blow back on the students.
Plus, Arce said, he'd be out of town the weekend that Cavazos-Garcia said would be the only one available for the event, because of the short notice. Arce said he would be in California - at a conference, talking about Mexican American Studies.
If the students are the true focus, then the adults need to act like adults and do what's right for kids.
Arizona Daily Star