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TUSD board member calls Mexican-American studies a ‘cult’

Mark Stegeman, a Democratic member of the Tucson Unified School District governing board, used to be in favor of the Mexican-American Studies program, but he had an “epiphany” during a visit to one of the classes.

Stegeman testified today that as he watched and listened to the March 25 literature lesson he suddenly remembered a book he read on cult psychology.

He scribbled on note paper, “this is a cult,” “this is pure political proselytizing,” “45 minutes in, no education happening,” and “not critical thinking; it does teach resentment.”

Stegeman’s testimony came in the first day of administrative hearings on the district’s appeal of Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s findings that the program put the district out of compliance with state law governing ethnic studies.

“What I felt I observed was the instructor pulling the students in the direction of us versus them,” Stegeman said after his testimony.

Huppenthal found on June 15 that the program violated provisions in the law that prohibit classes from promoting racial resentment, being designed primarily for the pupils of a particular ethnic group and advocated ethnic solidarity.

Stegeman said the teaching included a consistent message of resentment towards a ruling class in America that oppressed Latinos.

Stegeman, who appeared uncomfortable throughout his testimony, hunched over, spoke softly and frowned, was just one of four witnesses called by Huppenthal’s lawyers.

Stegeman admitted that he was in agreement with one of Huppenthal’s top aides, John Stollar, that the program needs to be torn down and rebuilt.

Stollar, who was one of two top aides to investigate the district’s compliance with the law, said the program had no curriculum and operated in isolation from the rest of the district.

Stollar also testified about the reasons why Huppenthal found the program out of compliance when an independent auditor didn’t.

“I didn’t feel the substance was there,” Stollar said, referring to the finding of Cambium Learning Group that there was “no observable evidence” of non-compliance.

Stollar, who spent much of his career as a principal, said the auditors spent too little time observing the classes and didn’t gather enough class materials.

Student interviews by auditors were also suspect because they were chosen by the teachers themselves, he said.

Stollar said on cross examination, however, that he didn’t observe any classes himself and didn’t review evidence related to the elementary school or art portion of the program.

The hearing will resume on Tuesday.

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