TUSD in Fox spotlight
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/124593
Labor activist's speech gets attention of 'O'Reilly Factor'
By Daniel Scarpinato
A politically focused speech at a local high school in which the speaker said "Republicans hate Latinos" is gaining national attention as Tucson Unified School District officials struggle to defend the event.
A day after Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer issued a formal response to questions from a state lawmaker who has been critical of the speech, he and others appeared on cable news to discuss the controversy.
On the Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," Pfeuffer, Republican state Rep. Jonathan Paton and a Tucson High Magnet School student also debated lingering questions about how the district has dealt with student walkouts and protests over immigration reforms with Bill O'Reilly, the most-watched personality on cable news. Fox devoted two segments to the issue.
The controversial comments were made by labor activist Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers of America, during an April 3 speech at Tucson High, 400 N. Second Ave.
Huerta said she wanted to start a postcard campaign with the theme "Republicans hate Latinos." She also talked about abortion, the war in Iraq and other controversial issues. She did not return calls Thursday to discuss her comments.
Pfeuffer is scheduled to appear in front of a bipartisan legislative committee next Thursday to explain the speech as well as his decision to bus students back to school from the Downtown protests.
Pfeuffer responded in writing Wednesday night to questions from Paton about both issues. In his letter, he said Huerta was allowed to continue after the comment about Republicans because she's "a national icon and her words offer an historical perspective that is consistently left out of our history books."
Further complicating the issue is that students who chose to opt out of going to the speech were sent to the library, which was locked because the librarians had not seen a memo from the school principal.
The student who appeared on the show, Mon-yee Fung, is president and founder of the school's Teenage Republican Club and also will be testifying at next week's hearings in Phoenix. She told O'Reilly — who said he hadn't previously heard of Huerta — that she chose to attend the speech despite her disagreements.
"I heard that she was a cultural icon and because everyone was saying that Republicans don't understand the other side, as a Republican I wanted to show that I do want to understand the other side," said the 17-year-old senior.
After Huerta's "Republicans hate Latinos" comment, Fung tried to leave but was stopped by school personnel, which Pfeuffer said was unfortunate.
"My teacher told me to sit down and listen. There wasn't really an explanation," she said.
Fung thinks the comments made an impression on students, who she believes might view her differently even though she supports setting up a system for illegal immigrants to become legal.
District officials have argued that the speech was educational, not political. But Pfeuffer acknowledged Thursday that the speech had, in fact, become political in nature.
And Huerta's speech touched on more than just immigration. During the roughly 30 minute speech, she talked about some of the most hot-button issues in the country, such as abortion, U.S. Supreme Court appointments, gay marriage, the war in Iraq, taxes and labor unions.
Huerta said that Spanish radio hosts "told the people what was happening on these immigration laws. I wish the Anglo-speaking press would do the same with the American public and tell them what's happening in Iraq and what's happening with our tax dollars that are going to the wealthy."
The speech came amid thousands of student walkouts over national immigration reform. It was billed as a forum to highlight the issue but was scheduled before the protests, which landed most students at the Downtown Federal Building.
In the letter to Paton, which was released Thursday, Pfeuffer said roughly $2,600 was spent transporting students from the protests back to campus. Of that total, about $1,000 was spent on overtime. The district has spent considerable time explaining that students were not driven to the rallies — only back to campus to keep them safe, Pfeuffer said.
That strategy emerged "after we saw the scale of the walkouts, the temperature that day and requests from the Tucson Police Department to remove students from the Downtown area," Pfeuffer said in his letter to Paton. TUSD decided not to provide transportation on April 10, when some 11,000 students were absent from school.
Pfeuffer has invited Paton to speak at Tucson High, an offer he says he won't accept.
"They shouldn't be having political speech on campus," he said. "My whole point was that it's not an appropriate venue for high-school students. So they're going to spend another whole hour on another whole political speech? For what?"
Pfeuffer said he doesn't agree with Huerta's comment about Republicans. "You cannot paint a whole group with the same brush as she did," he said. But he does support having controversial speakers in schools.
● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or firstname.lastname@example.org