Stegeman backs off use of 'cult' in Ethic Studies hearing testimony

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- TUSD testimony at Friday's administrative appeal hearing in Phoenix may have dealt a damaging blow to the Ethnic Studies program.

Fresh off his testimony in Phoenix, Dr. Mark Stegeman was under fire for his choice of words.

"Cult's a very strong word," said Dr. Stegeman.

But that's the word he used to describe Ethnic Studies classes and the behavior of Ethnic Studies supporters.

"I think he's had a strong departure from reality.  He knows nothing of cults.  He doesn't know what cults are and he certainly knows nothing about our curriculum," said Richard Martinez.

Saturday, Stegeman backed down a bit describing it more as a mass movement and Pointing to several moments that caused him to have what he called an epiphany about the program.

"There was a chant or prayer that was sort of ritualized and memorized," said Stegeman.

Fellow TUSD board member Michael Hicks also slammed the program in his testimony.

Ethnic Studies attorney Richard Martinez doesn't put too much weight on it.

"In all honesty, I don't think they know what they're talking about," said Martinez.

But it was a powerful one two punch from those two district leaders against the very program their district is fighting to defend.

"I think it's damaging that two members of the board says those things," said Martinez.

"It is what it is.  I said what I think is true," said Stegeman.

There are two more days of testimony ahead.

Stegeman is relieved his part is done but says he'll be even more relieved when the process is over.

"Only 275 students are taking this out of 50,000 students.   This small program is driving way too much of what's happened in the district," said Stegeman.   "We cant ignore it.  We have to get through it and we'll all be glad when we do."

Testimony picks up in Phoenix again on Tuesday.

In Tucson, the TUSD board will meet on that day as well.

No call to the audience is on the agenda but the board plans to address a possible change of officers, including Stegeman.