Tea Party Activists Sue Mexican American Studies Educators

Moderators Note: For decades now, social movement activists have been harassed by corporate and political opponents through a tactic known as a SLAPP suit, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. These attacks are invariably based on spurious and unfounded allegations intended to damage and restrain activists from continuing their important community-based and social movement organizing and education work. 

The most common form of this attack is based on spurious allegations of defamation or libel. The tactic often works because it distracts the activists from their actual work and drains all their time, energy, and resources into often lengthy and costly legal defenses. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the lawsuits are eventually dismissed or the ruling favors the defense.

Sean Arce and José González are long-time Tucson Mexican American Studies (MAS) community educators and leaders, recognized and celebrated across the country for their path-breaking curricular and pedagogical innovations that have succeeded by increasing Latina/o high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

Our Arizona colleagues are currently being sued under the false premise of “defamation” by John Ward, a former Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) teacher and current operative of the Arizona right-wing that includes Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne who originated the State of Arizona’s HB 2281 - the infamous legislation designed to ban the teaching of Mexican American Studies in public schools and the subject of on-going litigation in the federal courts. 

We are therefore posting and endorsing this appeal from our colleagues for contributions to their legal defense fund. We urge everyone to assist them with even the smallest contribution. This attack is not just on two esteemed colleagues; it is an attack on all of us; on our freedom of association and freedom of speech; it is an underhanded attack against our rights to criticize injustice and organize our communities for self-realization and autonomy. 

Please join me in supporting this important campaign to help Arce and González defend themselves from these spurious attacks by the minions of extremist right-wing proponents of hate, fear, and white supremacy. Dont let the right-wing zealots silence our most eloquent and committed voices.

Ward’s defamation suit against Arce and González

Former TUSD Social Studies teacher, John Ward is suing former TUSD Mexican American Studies Department (MASD) educators Sean Arce and Jose González for $1,000,000 damages for defamation, defamation per se, and false light of invasion of privacy.

Ward falsely claims that his “good name and reputation as an educator have been damaged by the defamatory statements of Messrs. Arce and Gonzalez” based upon comments Mr. Arce made in an interview with Education Week in September 2010; the comments were never published; and for comments that González made shortly following a December 30, 2010 TUSD Governing Board Meeting.

Furthermore, even the spouses of Mr. Arce and Mr. González are co-defendants in the suit, which specifically names Essence Sanchez Arce,  a long-time public school educator who was directly involved in the creation of MAS as a college student and is the mother of two school-aged children; and Norma González, who is also a long-time former MAS educator, grandmother of two, mother of two, and step mother of one González school-aged child; these facts make this an all-out attack on the Arce and González families.

For Arce, Ward’s false claim of defamation stems from an interview Mary Ann Zehr of Education Week conducted with Arce in September of 2010. During this interview Zehr communicated to Arce that Ward told her that he (the plaintiff) was removed from co-teaching the MAS sponsored American History Mexican American Perspectives class at Tucson High Magnet School during the Fall of 2002 because Ward spoke out against Arce teaching students “anti- American” values and to hate white people. 

In response to Ward’s false accusations and out of a sense of the need to defend his professional, personal, and family’s well-being, Arce communicated to Zehr that he never taught students “anti-American values” or to “hate white people.”

Moreover, to correct the false accusations that Ward first expressed to Zehr – a national level journalist/reporter Arce communicated to Zehr that the one of the reasons that Ward was removed from co-teaching the American History Mexican American Perspectives class during the Fall of 2002, to the best of his recollection (this incident occurred eight years prior), was that Ward slammed a book and used expletives in front of students in the class because he was in disagreement with the overall MAS pedagogy and curriculum.

On September 21, 2010, Zehr published “Students Aren’t Deterred in Ethnic Studies Controversy” in Education Week, where Zehr did not publish the comments that Ward accused Arce of making.

For González, Ward’s false claim of defamation stems from the December 30, 2010 TUSD Governing Board Meeting where Ward engaged in a discussion with González. 

That evening, John Ward was willingly interviewed by local news media to express his displeasure with the TUSD Governing Board’s “Resolution to Implement Ethnic Studies in Tucson Unified School District in Accordance with All Applicable Laws.” Ward then began to interview with a local Tucson blogger and asked that González sit in with him to discuss the MAS issue (http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kqkqe73C_YQ). 

The blogger in this interview proceeded to ask Ward, “There were students who claimed that you once cussed in front of the class and threw your books down and walked out” to which Ward responded “You can ask one of my former students if I ever slammed books and uh, cussed in front of uh…” The blogger immediately responded, “I actually did.” González then intervened, “I was there, I witnessed it and so did the whole class. And not only that, the foul language that came out of your mouth.”

Ward’s case is simply a continuation of the attacks on Mexican Americans/Latinos originating from efforts led by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that has set out to destroy the personal and professional lives of MAS educators Arce and González. 

Tom Horne with John Ward at Press Conference
Ward threw his name into the national media fray well before the February 27, 2011 date when he filed his claim against Arce and Gonzalez.  He has collaborated with former Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction and current Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, including joint public appearances, to attack the Mexican American Studies Department and its personnel through national (http://www.foxnews.com/story/ 0,2933,593046,00.html) and local media (http://tucsoncitizen.com/morgue/2008/05/21/ 85853-guest-opinion-raza-studies-gives-rise-to-racial-hostility/). Now Ward is now claiming that his future employment prospects have been adversely impacted and that he is also emotionally and psychologically damaged.

In fact, it is Arce and González whose employment prospects have been damaged through Ward’s public attacks and those orchestrated by Ward’s allies and political affiliates – Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, TUSD Leadership under Superintendent John Pedicone, and the TUSD Governing Board that eliminated MAS, the very department under which González taught.

Real damages have resulted as well from Mr. Pedicone’s acts of retaliation against Arce who failed to renew Arce’s contract because he had spoken out against TUSD’s discriminatory and unconstitutional enforcement of HB 2281.

Evidence illustrating the falsity of allegations

View the following link on the Precious Knowledge documentary movie trailer (http:/ /vimeo.com/15062646) at the 1 minute 8 second mark, with John Ward and current Arizona State Attorney General Tom Horne standing directly behind him. In this trailer Ward defames and demonizes the TUSD MASD personnel by stating that “The program (TUSD’s Mexican American Studies Department) is administered by vehemently anti-American zealots.” This language towards Arce and González is nothing short of a political witch hunt set out to destroy the professional and personal lives of Arce and González.

In short, weeks following the contested Fall of 2002 classroom incident that Ward is disputing ever happened, Ward did not continue to assist in the teaching of the MASD sponsored American History/Mexican American Perspectives class for the remainder of the academic year. 

Interestingly, six years later when then Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, began attacking and demonizing TUSD’s MASD, John Ward, out of political convenience, wrote a May 21, 2008 “opinion piece” in the Tucson Citizen entitled “Raza Studies gives rise to racial hostility.” In this piece, all of Ward’s early versions of the false claims made in the lawsuit included the following two examples:

Ward’s False Claim:
“I was assigned to be a ‘teacher of record’ because some members of the Raza studies staff lacked teaching certificates. It was a convenient way of circumventing the rules.”
The main TUSD MASD instructor assigned to “co-instruct” this class, Sean Arce, did have a valid Arizona State Teaching Certificate at the time of the 2002-2003 academic year.

Ward’s False Claim:
“As an educator, I refused to be complicit in a curriculum that engendered racial hostility, irresponsibly demeaned America’s civil institutions, undermined our public servants, discounted any virtues in Western civilization and taught disdain for American sovereignty.”
The TUSD MASD classes have never taught racial hostility toward any group of people, demeaned America’s civil institutions, undermined our public servants, nor discounted the virtues of Western Civilization or taught a disdain for American sovereignty; on the contrary, MASD has provided a curriculum and pedagogy that has created the classroom conditions for students to be: full participants in a democracy, critical thinkers, academically proficient, developers of cultural, social, and historical knowledge and that serve as bridges of understanding.
I would venture that this illustrates how the lawsuit is the result of a premeditated attack on MASD educators. The Ward case against Arce and González is a critical moment, one indicative of the politics and climate of fear and discrimination against the Mexican American/Chicano community in Arizona, and that speaks directly to the notion of social justice. It also one cannot be successfully defended in the courts without your financial assistance.
Sean Arce and José González
Support the Raza Defense Fund!

Your donations are critically needed, as these funds will go towards defending Sean Arce and José González against these continued attacks from former Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Social Studies teacher John Ward. The legal proceedings in this case are moving forward, current legal costs are quickly amassing, and in the very near future legal expenses will be exorbitant. 

While pro bono legal services of an outstanding Civil Rights attorney have been obtained, the legal costs to fully and effectively defend Arce and González will run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Costs related to depositions, video taping of depositions, transcriptions of depositions, and discovery… to name a few, are currently accumulating and need to be paid in order to successfully defend Arce and González. 

Moreover, John Ward – the former TUSD teacher and current ally of the Arizona right-wing, has been able to raise funds for the litigation with the backing of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (the creator and top proponent of HB 2281); Arizona State Legislator Steve Montenegro (the writer of HB 2281); Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal; right-wing propagandists Tucsonans United 4 Sound Districts; right-wing propagandist blogger for the Arizona Daily Independent – Loretta Hunnicutt; the Ahwatukee Tea Party; the Deer Valley Tea Party, the Maricopa County Republican Committee; the Arizona GOP; the Arizona Latino Republican Association; the Central Republicans Women’s Club; and the Arizona Chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Ward, with the support of his right-wing allies and attorneys, are determined to make the trial against Arce and González a modern-day “Scopes Trial” against Mexican American Studies/Chicano Studies; this case is not about Mexican American Studies/Chicano Studies, and we must prevent Ward, his attorneys, and his allies from making it into one. 

In fact, the Ward lawsuit against Arce and González has become personal and is meant to destroy the professional and personal lives of these two outstanding educators who have been under attack for standing up against the elimination of Mexican American Studies in Tucson, Arizona for the past six years.
Please donate to the RAZA DEFENSE FUND and help put a stop to right-wing attacks taking place against the Mexican American/Chicano community in Tucson, Arizona.

Please help Arce and González to defend themselves and stand up to the right-wing attacks by donating to the RAZA DEFENSE FUND

Lastly, please help the Arce and Gonzalez’s children and familias who have sacrificed much and stood strong for six-long years as they have and continue to fight for their community within the context of Arizona’s pervasive anti-Mexican environment.


Arce and Gonzalez RAZA DEFENSE FUND

Donations can be made to the RAZA DEFENSE FUND in the following two ways:

1) On the “RAZA DEFENSE FUND – We Pay” Web Site, you can donate by accessing the following link:

Support the Raza Defense Fund by donating now on - Donate with WePay

2) By mailing a check to “Raza Defense Fund” to the following address:

307 South Convent
Tucson, Arizona 85701


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