The Scottsdale hotel that made headlines last year for sheltering hundreds of illegal immigrants has been repurposed this year for sheltering Afghan refugees. In an email obtained by State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) Chief of Police Jeff Walther briefed the mayor and council on a situation that it appears not even local law enforcement was aware of until after the fact.
According to Walther’s relayed intelligence from the organization contracted by the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD) to run the shelter, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), refugees were relocated from military bases beginning January 12. The refugees won’t be confined to the hotel and may roam the community at their leisure because the law prohibits their detainment. They will reside at the hotel until they are matched with sponsor families throughout the Valley. At most, Walther said there would be 300 refugees housed at the hotel.
Walther reassured the council and mayor that the refugees were vaccinated, vetted by the State Department, and educated on American culture. The chief of police then admitted that there’s no security on site at the moment, but said IRC promised there would be at some point in the future.
If anyone attempts to contact the hotel, they will be met by individuals purporting to operate a regular hotel. Walther explained that the IRC hired a hotel management company to disguise the site was a functioning hotel serving “a closed clientele” — i.e., the refugees. At no point will the State Department or DOD manage the hotel or install any personnel there.
Just like last year, this reporter called the hotel. A woman answered, identifying the establishment as Homewood Suites; there was a substantial amount of background chatter. The woman informed this reporter that they were accepting reservations, but that there weren’t any available rooms until June, but didn’t disclose why.
AZ Free News inquired with Scottsdale’s mayor and city council about the hotel, and its reported lack of security for the refugees. A spokesperson for the mayor and council submitted this response, essentially repeating portions of information relayed by Walther and stating that city officials couldn’t do anything about something happening within their jurisdiction because the federal government was involved:
“The city was recently informed that a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the federal government has rented part of a vacant hotel in Scottsdale to house Afghan refugees evacuated by the U.S. in August 2021. This site is being used as a temporary housing facility while each resident/resident family is assigned a sponsor family to live with throughout the greater Phoenix Area. The individuals at this location were previously housed at U.S. military bases. While there, they were vetted by the U.S. State Department and vaccinated against COVID-19. Scottsdale is in contact with the organization operating this site, but has no current authority to prevent the hotel from being rented for this purpose. This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight.”
Chaplik warned his constituents that their city council had, once again, allowed unsupervised foreigners to occupy a building at the heart of their community.
“Residents of Scottsdale, is this what you voted for? City Council refused to put up a fight when ICE took over this hotel and now the Feds are bringing in Afghan refugees with NO public notice whatsoever. And NO security hired yet,” wrote Chaplik. “This is our community and council doesn’t care.”
As AZ Free News reported last June, the hotel was converted into a migrant shelter by ICE almost overnight to offset the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants caused by President Joe Biden. The shelter operated as a temporary migrant transition facility from May until the end of last month. Unlike the operations that concluded recently at the hotel, this shelter won’t be overseen by ICE.
On Friday, our other reporters drove by the hotel. They reported seeing garbage piled around the building, with employees hauling more garbage out of the building. There were no barricades around the hotel.
Walther claimed in closing that there have been few issues in the past with the refugees in the Phoenix area and across the nation. He informed the mayor and council that SPD met with IRC officials on Friday afternoon.
Arizona State University (ASU) decided to cancel a prominent conservative program’s first annual fundraiser scheduled for next month, and there are conflicting explanations behind their decision. The event was arranged to honor prominent community leaders Dan and Carleen Brophy; 100 percent of the event proceeds were to go to the program.
Three different reasons for the event’s cancellation were given to different parties involved in the event. The first two related to technicalities: the uptick in COVID-19 cases, and one unnamed faculty member’s failure to follow ASU rules. The third had to do with a more contentious topic: the featured speakers.
ASU’s decision means that the program, Political History and Leadership (PHL), may not obtain funds it anticipated from the event, which was to take place at the Desert Botanical Garden. Each guest would have paid $250 for attendance, and tables of eight would’ve pulled in $2,000. The PHL Program is part of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies.
AZ Free News learned that ASU informed several of the featured speakers that the event was canceled due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Scientists hypothesize that COVID-19 likely functions as a seasonal disease. Last year, the case counts for February were nominal after the holiday spike.
AZ Free News also learned that ASU President Michael Crow wasn’t aware of the event or its cancellation, and that ASU would reschedule. However, emails obtained by AZ Free News indicated that the ASU administration was responsible for canceling the event.
ASU spokesman Jerry Gonzalez told AZ Free News a slightly different story. Gonzalez said that a faculty member broke the university’s scheduling protocol. When we asked which protocol was broken, ASU said it didn’t have any more information to provide.
“The event at the Desert Botanical Garden was canceled due to a breach of scheduling protocol by a faculty member in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies,” said Gonzalez. “The university welcomes the opportunity for this event to be rescheduled following the required protocols.”
AZ Free News also inquired of the ASU Foundation, which was in charge of receiving the program funds earned from the event and approving any event planning. They didn’t respond to any of our emails.
A third potential reason surrounding the event cancellation had nothing to do with logistics. Some reported that they were informed that the event was canceled due to controversy over the choice of guest speakers: Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) and former Utah congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz.
In a press release, Arizona Free Enterprise Club President Scot Mussi derided ASU based on the claim that they canceled the fundraiser over Biggs and Chaffetz.
“It is outrageous that Michael Crow and ASU would cancel an ASU Foundation Fundraiser because they oppose the views and philosophy of the featured speakers attending the event. It is becoming clear that woke cancel culture has taken over every office at the University,” said Mussi. “ASU doesn’t have a problem with liberal activists and public officials appearing at the school for various events. It is well known that Democrat politicians, including US Senator Kyrsten Sinema, have in the past or currently work for the University at taxpayer expense. It only becomes a problem when the speaker is a conservative. If Michael Crow is going to surrender to the ‘cancel culture’ mob, then he is no longer fit to be ASU President and should resign.”
Those registered for the PHL event will receive full refunds.
A state senator has introduced a bill to prohibit public school districts from using taxpayer dollars to pay for membership in a state or national school board association.
Current state law allows a school district governing board to budget and spend funds for membership in an association of school districts within Arizona. But a school district board is not permitted to spend taxpayers’ dollars to join an association which attempts to influence the outcome of an election.
“The Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) has a consistent pattern of lobbying with a clear bias,” Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) said Tuesday. “This constitutes political activity and is often against the very taxpayers that funded them.”
ASBA “should be serving the parents, and not working hard against them,” Townsend added.
As a result, Townsend is sponsoring Senate Bill 1011, which would still allow a school district to join ASBA or another state association, as long as the membership dues are not paid by taxpayer funds. That leaves ASBA the option, Townsend suggested, of pursuing 501(c)(4) tax exempt status so it can fundraise for operational money “without relying on the taxpayer.”
SB1011 passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday via a 5-3 partisan vote.
The Arizona Association of County School Superintendents has come out against Townsend’s bill, as has the Arizona School Administrators Association. Among those supporting SB1011 include the Center for Arizona Policy and Diane Douglas, who served as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2015-2018.
School boards and associations have come under scrutiny the last two years due to COVID-19 protocols which have frequently pitted educators and administrators against the wishes of parents. It has led to a groundswell of parental interest in school operations and curriculum, as well as in how school boards spend funds.
Last September, the National School Boards Association got sideways with many school district governing boards and parents after sending a letter to President Joe Biden complaining about purported threatening and aggressive behavior on the part of parents toward school board members.
NSBA claimed such actions amounted to domestic terrorism which warranted federal law enforcement intervention. The fallout led several state school board associations to withdraw from NSBA.
And in Arizona, it resulted in the creation last year of the Arizona Coalition of School Board as an alternative to ASBA, which is still a member of NSBA.
Townsend recently requested records from ASBA about its expenditures for legal fees in connection with any litigation involving the state. She said her intent is to determine whether those expenditures came from dues paid by any Arizona school board.
ASBA did not comply with her public record request, Townsend said.
“I would hate to know the dues this organization receives from school boards are being used to pay attorneys to sue our state and overturn legislation we’re crafting on behalf of these constituents,” she said. “This is completely inappropriate, and I will be looking into whether or not taxpayer money has been used in this fashion to undo our laws.”
Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) will pilot a social-emotional learning (SEL) supplemental curriculum at 19 schools this coming spring. TUSD will rely on Character Strong’s SEL supplemental curriculum.
The following make up the tentative list of schools incorporating the pilot supplemental curriculum, according to TUSD spokeswoman Leslie Lenhart.
Elementary: Wheeler, Dunham, Collier, Robison, Grijalva, Erickson, Hudlow, Mission View, Cavett, Van Buskirk, and Ochoa
K8: Roskruge, Borman, and Robins
Middle: Alice Vail, Valencia, and Utterback
High School: Cholla and Santa Rita
Five schools already implemented the supplemental curriculum: Peter Howell Elementary School, Miles Exploratory Learning Center (K-8), Lineweaver Elementary School, Borton Magnet School (elementary), and Sam Hughes Elementary School. According to Lenhart, these five schools will serve in an advisory capacity for the pilot program.
SEL incorporates a variety of controversial teaching approaches, such as Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Culturally Responsive Education (CRE).
In a slideshow presentation discussing adoption of SEL curriculum, TUSD claimed that SEL cultivated “mindsets, skills, attitudes, and feelings” that set up students for success. The board also described SEL as a necessary precondition for education.
“In essence, SEL focuses on students’ fundamental needs for motivation, social connectedness, and self-regulation as preconditions for learning,” read the agenda item.
SEL promotes five competency areas: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The three functions of the TUSD SEL curriculum would focus on prevention and intervention using standards offered by Collaborative Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): an organization that helped mainstream SEL, a budding theory at the time.
During the same meeting, the board approved spending $26,325 in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds on SEL professional development. The funds go toward training teachers, staff, and administration in trauma informed or culturally responsive care, de-escalation strategies, interventions, trauma, and resiliency.
TUSD has followed state precedent. In December, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) claimed that SEL was the key to solving the mental health decline in school-aged children. ADE based their claim on an advisory published by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Governor Doug Ducey has acted in support of SEL adoption as well. Last August, AZ Free News reported that $1.6 out of $65 million in learning funds would go toward SEL programming. Then in September, AZ Free News discovered that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs nominated an elementary school teacher for her SEL implementation and activism.
After nearly two years of ever-changing pandemic protocols, it appears that some members of the Democratic Party and teachers unions disagree with remote learning as a viable mitigative strategy for COVID-19. State Representative César Chávez (D-Maryvale) commended Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s insistence that “enough is enough” with distance learning for K-12.
“Mayor Lightfoot’s statement is commendable,” wrote Chávez. “We have wedged a gap within a generation of children that might never obtain the lost curriculum due to the pandemic. We need to stop politicizing this situation, roll up our sleeves, and get these kids back in school.”
Chávez’s commentary provoked Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Joe Thomas to ask, “Was your account hacked?” Thomas has been one of the principal activists pushing for remote learning coming off of the holidays. As AZ Free News reported, Thomas was one of the individuals responsible for launching the RedforEd movement.
Chávez joined the likes of Governor Doug Ducey with his stance on remote education. Following the organized push by teachers unions to close schools, Ducey pledged that in-person education would continue for all of Arizona. To back his promise, Ducey announced that families could receive up to $7,000 if their child’s school faces unexpected closures.
For that, former state representative and current attorney general candidate Diego Rodriguez called Ducey “the worst governor in Arizona history.” It appears that Chávez wouldn’t be at odds only with his former colleague — other Arizona Democrats signaled support for teachers demanding remote learning.
State Representative Mitzi Epstein (D-Ahwatukee) asserted that she supported school closures; the Arizona House Democrats agreed with her remarks. State Representative Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley) excoriated Ducey for “punishing” schools if they decided to close due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
State Representatives Athena Salmon (D-Tempe) and Andrea Dalessandro (D-Sahuarita) insisted that teachers have “safe environments” in which to teach. Likewise, State Senator Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) retweeted commentary criticizing Ducey for jeopardizing children.
Former House Speaker and conservative pundit Newt Gingrich complimented Governor Doug Ducey for his leadership tactics concerning COVID-19 and K-12 schools.
The governor announced that families may receive up to $7,000 to receive the education of their choice if their child’s school decides to cease in-person learning due to COVID-19. Ducey allocated $10 million to what he called a “preemptive action” program: the Open for Learning Recovery Benefit.
“Governor Ducey’s announcement that Arizona will give the education money to parents if their school is closed is the most creative response yet to the teachers union putting children last,” wrote Gingrich. “Chicago should follow his lead.”
Gingrich’s tweet referred to the decision by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on Tuesday night to return to remote learning. A day later, hours after Gingrich’s tweet, Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared in a press conference to reemphasize the importance of in-person education. Lightfoot had pushed for school reopenings throughout 2021 in a constant battle with the CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
As Ducey made his media rounds to discuss his program, he submitted an opinion piece with the Wall Street Journal criticizing the CTU, CPS, and Lightfoot’s administration the day after her press conference. Ducey challenged President Joe Biden to take a stand on school closures as well.
“Even Mayor Lori Lightfoot is unhappy, correctly noting that Chicago’s classrooms are safe and accusing the union of an ‘illegal work stoppage.’ She added that teachers who didn’t show up Wednesday would be put on no-pay status. We’ll see how long that lasts given how powerful the CTU is in Democratic politics,” wrote Ducey. “As for Mr. Biden, whose side is he on? The students whom he says will be safe in class according to all of the science? Or the unions who backed him politically but are doing terrible harm to America’s school children, including 330,000 of them in Chicago this week? How about leading for a change, Mr. President?”
Ducey’s program was prompted by teachers unions’ efforts to close in-person schooling, having children return from the holidays to remote learning for two weeks minimum. Ducey accused unions of disregarding children’s welfare for a political game.
On Thursday, the governor further claimed that his $10 million program would be “kryptonite” to teachers unions. He dismissed the activists as those opposed to science and challenged their true intentions.
“These unions are playing games with our children’s education. They aren’t following the science. Experts agree that kids should be in the classroom,” stated Ducey. “Our kids cannot afford any more time away from the classroom. Arizona children are in school and they’re going to stay in their classrooms. […] Kids need to get caught up. There’s too much focus on masks, and not enough on math. Arizona is showing the way to keep kids in school.”