Public schools are out of control. And it’s going to get worse if we don’t do something about it. Unfortunately, for far too long, school board elections have been some of the most ignored around our state. But whether you have kids in public school, private school, or homeschool—whether your kids are out of school or you don’t have kids at all—this year’s school board election will affect you.
How? Take a look at some of the worst abuses in public school districts in the past year.
A Financial Mess
As a taxpaying citizen, you probably care a lot about where your dollars go. But most school districts don’t share your same concerns. Mesa Public Schools (MPS) is one of them. Back in March, MPS failed to explain where over $32.3 million of their federal emergency funds slated for COVID-related expenditures went—which should’ve resulted in an audit by the State of Arizona.
On Sunday, Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs announced that she booked the drag queen who’s spoken out against her opponent, Kari Lake, over their past friendship.
Social media posts by the drag queen, Richard Stevens, went viral in June for showcasing his past friendship with Lake as well as her support and enthusiasm for the drag queen lifestyle.
Stevens spoke out in mid-June after Lake criticized the normalization of drag queens publicly. He called her a hypocrite, claiming that he did a drag queen performance for her birthday with children present years ago, and that she attended his performances at various Phoenix bars.
As proof, Stevens posted photos of Lake standing alongside two drag queens, one of them being him. In one of the photos, Lake was dressed as Elvis Presley and posing alongside Seville dressed as a blonde female with a sugar skull face. It’s unclear whether whether Lake intended to dress as a “drag king,” which is cross-dressing for a woman, or merely intended to wear a costume for a themed party.
“Now that @karilake has waded into the war on drag queens, know she is a complete hypocrite,” wrote Stevens. “Kari was a friend of mine, and I stood by her when she turned to the right. I reached out (and she responded repeatedly) when she took a public drubbing.”
Lake served Stevens a cease-and-desist letter. Incidentally, Stevens was preparing to perform for a “family-friendly” drag show brunch when he received the letter.
In response, Stevens’ lawyer Thomas Ryan called Lake a “bully” and threatened to provide evidence that Lake hired Stevens to perform for a news anchor friend’s baby shower.
“Now Kari is a bully, and the reservoir of goodwill she had built up over the years as a cherished news anchor — well, that’s been drained to the point where we might as well just refer to her now as Kari Puddles,” wrote Ryan.
The Arizona Senate Republican caucus pledged in June to introduce legislation banning child attendance at drag shows. The leaders said that drag shows sexualized and groomed children. They noted that they were working with several other states to draft the legislation.
“If men want to dress as women, and if adults want to participate in watching these hyper-sexualized performances, they have the freedom to do so. It crosses the line when kids are subjected to these drag shows,” wrote the caucus. “We will be damned if we won’t fight like hell to protect the most innocent from these horrifying and disturbing trends that are spreading across the nation now that extremist Democrats are currently in control of our federal government.”
Their announcement followed a series of reports on the controversies following drag shows across the state. In May, a Tucson high school counselor who organized a drag show for students was arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. In June, a Phoenix museum hosted a drag show open to children.
Studies have linked youth exposure to sexually explicit material with risky sexual behaviors, intimacy disorders, sexual violence and misconduct, and sexual deviancy.
Tucson High Magnet School (THMS), part of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), announced that it would host its first-ever drag show in early May. The THMS employees behind the event are Zobella Vinik and Sunday Hamilton, both THMS counselors that also lead the LGBTQ+ student club, “Q Space,” in which students learn about LGBTQ+ history and are encouraged to explore their identities. Vinik and Hamilton explained on the event announcement that the drag show would occur annually; the last day to sign up for the event was Monday, with a mandatory meeting for participating students on Tuesday.
TUSD spokeswoman Karla Escamilla told AZ Free News that the drag show was a club activity coordinated by TUSD students, not staff. The original social media post about the event identified it as the “THMS Drag Show,” with the username “@tucsonhigh_drag.” Escamilla added that the event not occurring in association with TUSD would constitute as gender expression discrimination.
“The event is a student club activity. It is driven by students, not TUSD staff. This is not an instructional activity and it’s being held on a Saturday. Tucson Unified has a strong policy of nondiscrimination regarding gender expression and restricting the free expression of these high school student club members would be inconsistent with that policy. Participation in the show is voluntary in all capacities (performances, lighting, audio & visual, and outdoor stage set-up),” wrote Escamilla.
The counselors created an Instagram page for the drag show, which followed one other account, THMS counseling, which followed the account in return along with the THMS yearbook account. The counselors also invited students to access a “drag inquiry form” using their Microsoft Office student account. AZ Free News was unable to access the form by press time. The original Instagram post of a flyer announcing the event was removed.
One of the counselors behind the event, Hamilton, is a transgender man whose legal name is “April Hamilton,” once a star student and athlete hailing from Cienega High School. In a podcast during her final year of working as a University of Arizona (UArizona) graduate student within the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Hamilton asserted that the “binary system” of gender was “violent and harmful.” Hamilton said at the time that she really identified as a “nonbinary gay boy.”
“Black women are definitely seen more as masculine,” asserted Hamilton.
The other counselor, Vinik, serves as the educator support lead for Scholarships A-Z (SA-Z), an organization working to help illegal immigrants earn a higher education and relevant educational scholarships. Among the organization’s biggest donors are A for Arizona, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, the Ford Foundation, Graesser Foundation, Joe Kalt & Judy Gans Family Foundation, National Justice For Our Neighbors, OneAZ Community Foundation, Resist, and Unitarian Universalist Funding Program.
While earning a degree in Peace and Justice Studies with a minor in Latinx Studies from Tufts University, Vinik organized “A Resolution to Establish Equal Opportunity for Undocumented Students” through the group she presided over, Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ), in a campaign to make higher education accessible for illegal immigrants at the school. Vinik’s work resulted in the university awarding admission and scholarships to illegal immigrants.
Vinik has also worked as a preschool teacher and a K-12 substitute teacher, and earned a master’s degree in school counseling from New York University last year.
“[Zobella] is working to unlearn practices maintained by white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy and recommits daily to prioritize mental health, community care, and visions for freedom offered by Queer BIPOC organizers,” stated Vinik’s profile.
Neither Hamilton or Vinik responded to our questions on the event by press time.