Did TUSD, Huerta break law?
Arizona Daily Star
May 6, 2006

Special legislative panel will call for inquiry to find out

By Howard Fischer And Daniel Scarpinato

Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/127973

 PHOENIX — A special legislative panel is preparing to seek an Attorney General's Office investigation into whether the Tucson Unified School District and a guest speaker broke state laws against using school resources to influence elections.

 A draft report obtained Friday also concludes that TUSD should remove the audio of what the panel called a "hate speech" by Dolores Huerta from its Web site immediately. It also says the district should apologize to students who were at the April 3 assembly where Huerta spoke — and their parents.

 The preliminary findings by the House Select Committee on Government Operations, Performance and Waste also include: telling the TUSD Governing Board to give "serious consideration" to adopting guidelines for guest speakers, having those guests discuss ahead of time with principals what they plan to say to students, and giving students and parents "advance notice ... regarding speakers and their messages."  

The findings will be voted on by committee members next week. But they won't be adopted unanimously. Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, has already prepared a minority report essentially saying neither TUSD nor Huerta did anything wrong.  

The fight all stems from the speech Huerta made to students at Tucson High Magnet School, 400 N. Second Ave.  

Huerta, who helped organize the United Farm Workers Union with César Chávez, spoke not only about labor but also criticized the war in Iraq, extolled Hugo Chavez, the socialist president of Venezuela, and supported gay marriage and abortion rights.  

And she also said, "Republicans hate Latinos."

Those comments, and other issues surrounding student walkouts amid national immigration rallies in the following weeks, caused the panel to call on educators to explain how they'd handled things.

 During testimony before the panel, TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said he disagreed with Huerta's comment on Republicans. But he told lawmakers that high school students are entitled to hear guest speakers' views on a variety of subjects.

 While that annoyed Republican legislators, it wasn't illegal.

 What may have been, said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, was encouraging students to work for the re-election of U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Allen, who chairs the panel, said that's why Attorney General Terry Goddard ought to investigate.

 But Gallardo said the law Allen refers to is designed to prevent school employees — not guest speakers — from using school resources to influence elections.

 And Gallardo said legislators — himself included — often talk to school groups about current issues and even matters on the ballot. He said he would not want the law interpreted so that he or a school would have had legal trouble because he told students two years ago why he thought Proposition 200 — to limit state services to illegal immigrants — was a bad idea.

 Allen, however, said an investigation would send an important message.

 "It would send a signal to the schools that we have laws on the books about this sort of activity, and you are to follow them," he said. "It would be a real wake-up call."

 TUSD officials remained silent on the recommendations, but school board members were more vocal Friday.

 District spokeswoman Estella Zavala said Pfeuffer would review the committee's findings and "take them under advisement." She said he would not have time to comment more specifically Friday evening.

 Board members expressed frustration that the clamor about the speech has not faded.

 Alex Rodriguez and Bruce Burke said the board and the district should move on and focus on such issues as academic achievement. They indicated they'd consider the recommendations but said the school district's business should be handled locally.

 Burke said he feared some of the recommendations sounded like "prior restraint and censorship."

 Board member Judy Burns said she has disagreed with other board members and Pfeuffer about the issue since the beginning.

 "My confrontation with Roger Pfeuffer was: Where do you draw the line? Was it OK that she said 'Republicans hate Latinos?' Would it have been OK if she said 'Christians hate Muslims?' Do we let white supremacists into the schools?"

 Burns said she'd like to see more oversight of speakers but doesn't expect other board members to call for policy changes. A lifelong Democrat, she said Huerta's speech was an example of partisan politics seeping into schools, which could cause long-term damage.  

"There are people who won't even consider TUSD because of things like this," she said. "We're out of control. They see a district that's run amok."

● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at dscarpinato@azstarnet.com.