Teachers suspended for teaching about Cesar Chavez

SIXTIES-L (SIXTIES-L@jefferson.village.virginia.edu)
Thu, 20 Mar 1997 13:50:54 -0500

Normally I don't forward these sorts of stories, but this seems to
have direct bearing on teaching the Sixties. Several listmembers
submitted copies to us.

Kali Tal
SIXTIES-L Co-moderator


>From: SouthWest Organizing Project <swop@igc.apc.org>
>)From Albuquerque Journal, March 7, 1997
>Teachers Suspended for Curriculum Changes
>Vaughn Sisters Taught Kids About Racial Tolerance
>By Valerie Santillanes, Journal Staff Writer
>The Vaughn Municipal Schools superintendent has suspended two teachers for
>using materials in their classrooms that deviate from a traditional language
>arts curriculum.
>Sisters Patsy and Nadine Cordova were told earlier this year to stop
>teaching language arts students about Cesar Chavez and Chicano history and
>return to a traditional curriculum. They complied with the order but
>recently introduced new material on racial and religious tolerance and were
>suspended with pay Feb. 28.
>Superintendent Arthur Martinez also informed the teachers by letter that he
>intends to recommend to the Vaughn Board of Education that they be fired for
>"I've been living in a state of disbelief since August," Patsy Cordova said
>Thursday. "I keep expecting them to say, 'Wait, this is too much.' But then
>they surprise us again."
>Student Naomi Chavez, 13, said she and most of her classmates enjoyed the
>Cordovas' lessons and miss their teachers.
>"It's been hard on all of us," Chavez said. "The students are taking it
>hard. A lot of us cried when we found out (about the suspensions). It's
>really disrupted our school."
>Neither Martinez nor the school district's attorney could be reached for
>comment Thursday. Last month, Martinez gave the board his letter of
>resignation, effective in June. He has said his resignation is unrelated to
>the controversy.
>The Cordovas are longtime teachers and residents of Vaughn, a community of
>about 700 people about 100 miles southeast of Albuquerque. The teachers had
>several run-ins with Martinez this school year because of their use of
>Chicano-oriented literature, news stories and art in their language arts and
>"Skills for Living" classes. The district purchased the textbooks and the
>video series the Cordovas used and to which Martinez later objected.
>The teachers also sponsored a MEChA club, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de
>Aztlan, a leadership organization for Hispanic youth, which Martinez
>initially supported and to which 23 of the district's 68 middle and high
>school students belonged during the club's short-lived tenure, from August
>to November.
>Beginning in September, Martinez withdrew his support for the club and told
>the Cordovas the school district "will not sanction in any way the ideals
>and goals of the MEChA organization. Therefore there should not be any
>instruction nor activity that reflects during the school day (the MEChA
>In January, Martinez issued a written order to the Cordovas to stop using a
>textbook called "500 Years of Chicano History" and to "discontinue any
>further study" of the farm workers movement and the late Cesar Chavez.
>The Cordovas complied but contacted the American Civil Liberties Union,
>which retained attorneys for the teachers. The attorneys say they likely
>will file a lawsuit against the school district.
>Vaughn Municipal Schools officials have refused to discuss the issue but are
>getting support from some residents, who argue that the teachers' lessons
>promoted racism.
>The Cordovas said that after five weeks of using the traditional curriculum,
>they began looking for an alternative because their students were bored.
>"Our kids were just not responding to the standard textbook," Nadine Cordova
>Last week, they introduced a curriculum called "Teaching Tolerance," which
>is distributed free to schools by the Southern Poverty Law Center in
>Alabama, a nonprofit legal and education foundation.
>The program includes reading material on instances of racial and religious
>intolerance in the United States from the 1660s to the 1990s.
>The Cordovas informed Martinez of their intent to use the materials,
>supplied him with examples and gave their students the option of continuing
>with the traditional curriculum. The Cordovas say four of their more than 50
>students chose to stay with the traditional curriculum.
>"This didn't have anything to do with Cesar Chavez or Chicano studies,"
>Patsy Cordova said. "It's about tolerance, and the kids loved it."
>After using the instructional materials for five days, the teachers were
>suspended. In his "Notice of Intent to Discharge," Martinez states the
>Cordovas "sought to undermine the curriculum prescribed" to them and that
>they ridiculed the traditional curriculum at school in front of students and
>staff, encouraged students to lobby against the traditional curriculum and
>ridiculed Martinez by calling him "Smurf."
>The Cordovas deny those allegations. The board of education will hold a
>discharge hearing for the teachers within the next 40 days.
>"All I know is that I have done nothing to deserve losing my job," Patsy
>Cordova said. "But I believe that when all this is over, it will change
>things in Vaughn for the better."
>** End of text from cdp:headlines **
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