The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014, and early voting is already underway! Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” Make your voice heard in 2014!
School board elections, often overshadowed by high-profile congressional and presidential campaigns, directly impact the lives of voters and their children. It is critically important that we elect qualified school board members in order to ensure the quality of Arizona’s public schools.
For the past 12 years as a Tucson Unified School District board member, Adelita Grijalva has worked tirelessly as an advocate for students and their families. She has fought for a number of important changes, including smaller class sizes, increased funding for music and the arts, and improvements in technology throughout the district. Ms. Grijalva, the acting president of the TUSD Board, is seeking reelection so that she may continue working toward equity and excellence in education for all K-12 students in Arizona.
On October 10, Ms. Grijalva took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to speak with me about some of the important issues surrounding the 2014 school board elections.
“TUSD was the first in the nation to adopt an anti-discrimination policy that includes gender identity.”
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a Tucson native born and raised, and I have three children, two of whom are school age and attending a TUSD elementary. I work at a nonprofit organization named Pima Prevention Partnership, and I’m the director for Pima County Teen Court, a juvenile diversion program. I’ve been there for 19 years.
I was involved in politics very young. My father ran for office when I was 1 [year old], and every election since then we’ve been involved in somebody’s campaign, whether it be his or a friend or someone else we support. Every campaign season — every November — I’ve been part of a campaign.
I ran for office 12 years ago, and I’ve been on Tucson Unified School District’s Governing Board since then.
Why is it important to you to be involved with education in your community?
Education is the cornerstone of this nation; it’s the civil rights issue of this generation. It’s important to have people in elected positions like governing boards that support public education. I think, especially in Arizona, we’ve had a lot of people who truly don’t support public education but are in charge of the purse strings.
The more I work with young people, the more I see how many the current system has failed. Again, I’m a Tucson native, so all of the young people who I work with, including my own children, are in public schools in Tucson.
Arizona Mayors released a report stating that high school dropouts cost the state $7.6 billion over the course of their lifetime. What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates?
I think there’s a huge, strong correlation. I am a regular donor and volunteer at the Teenage Parent Program in Tucson Unified. Many of the young women there leave because there is only a certain period of time that they can stay in the school with childcare included. Once the child reaches a certain age, they age out of childcare, simply because of facility capacity. Many of these young moms drop out because childcare is an issue. Many do not have a support system that can care for their child, so they forgo continuing their education. Being a young, teenage mom is extremely isolating, and the best thing we can do is invest in education about ways to prevent teen pregnancy, including safe sex. Dropout rates are significantly higher for teen parents, both young women and young men, and this is a serious issue.
I say this all from my experience in speaking with teen parents. Several times a year, I give presentations about the law and educate teen parents about available options. I’ve had the chance to talk to a couple hundred young moms. Many of them say, “I had a baby and dropped out of school. I came back because of this program, but I’m worried because when my daughter is 18 months old we’ll have to move. I don’t know where we’re going to go.”
Does your school district offer its students age-appropriate, scientifically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education? Do you think the current policy can be improved?
Yes, it can be improved. No, not all of the curriculum is comprehensive.
One of the issues I thought I’d addressed nine years ago is the fact that we have abstinence-only programs in our schools. When the grant agreement for abstinence-only programs came to the board for approval, I required that comprehensive education must be included — whether it be through outreach to organizations like Planned Parenthood to come into the schools or through incorporating it into the existing curricula. Now I understand that that directive has gone unmonitored.
We’re going to have a presentation to the board in the second meeting in October about all of TUSD’s partners. As part of that report, I will be raising questions about sex education: Who is working in our schools? What are they doing? Who is approving the curricula? How do the curricula tie into Common Core and our state requirements? Is sex ed included in health classes?
I’ve requested this information already, but I want it presented before the board in public. Before the end of this year, that’s going to be revised.
According to current Arizona law (ARS 15-176), no school district that includes HIV/AIDS education in their curricula may use instruction that “promotes a homosexual life-style,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Do you think such an approach is in the best interest of students?
I think you have to have a comprehensive review of all options. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” lifestyle for any child.
TUSD was the first in the nation to adopt an anti-discrimination policy that includes gender identity. Flowing Wells just adopted the policy last week, so two school districts in Tucson are the only in the nation to do so. This means that no policy, including sexuality education policy, can exclude any groups of students based on sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Any policy must be comprehensive.
Tucson Unified School District recently amended its nondiscrimination policy to include protections for transgender students and employees. Can you tell us about the decision-making process that gave rise to your district’s new policy?
The decision-making process was quite direct. It was actually part of the federal mandate that you can’t discriminate based on gender identity. We took that model and incorporated it into the policy. It is against the law to discriminate [based on gender identity], so every district should be revising their policies. I don’t know why TUSD and Flowing Wells are the only districts to have done it so far.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
Because I believe that the organization really speaks to my core beliefs and values, and I sought the endorsement for that reason. I think it’s important that we continue to advocate for the rights of women, and this organization does that. It is protecting a woman’s right to choose. And also, on the side of education, I believe that it is important for students and children to have a comprehensive education.