Ariz. sheriff irked over reading event

AP News
Posted: Mar 01, 2011 7:16 PM
Ariz. sheriff irked over reading event

America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff is miffed at elementary school administrators after he said he was invited to read to a group of Phoenix sixth-graders _ and then uninvited for being considered too controversial.

But administrators paint a different picture, saying there was simply a scheduling conflict and that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio _ known for his efforts against illegal immigrants _ is still welcome to read to the children.

Arpaio issued a critical news release about Washington Elementary School District on Monday, saying that a district official took back the invitation to read at Sahuaro Elementary School because it would likely anger the parents of Hispanic students.

"To disrespect the chief law enforcement authority of the county in this way is a bad example to students and the community overall," Arpaio said in the release. "The program I was to participate in was about literacy _ the importance of reading _ and had nothing whatsoever to do with law enforcement or my efforts to fight illegal immigration."

Arpaio, 78, has gained notoriety for housing inmates in canvas tents, issuing them striped uniforms and pink underwear, assigning them to old-style chain gangs, and serving them a green bologna diet.

District spokeswoman Carol Donaldson said Michael Plutschuck, the teacher who invited Arpaio, and district officials were blindsided by Arpaio's comments.

"I have no idea where that came from," she said Tuesday. "I don't understand the motivation, and I heard him say on the air that `We need to take the politics out of the classroom,' and I couldn't agree more. To me, this was not about politics. It was about a scheduling conflict."

In response, Arpaio told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the district was doing "damage control."

He said Plutschuck told him that the district wanted to take back his invitation.

"I take the word of the teacher, and of course after the fact they're going to say it's a scheduling conflict," Arpaio said. "He was told that the administration has concerns about me being too controversial, that the parents would complain."

Arpaio said if Plutschuck still wants him to read to his class, he'd go. "They can write me a letter, and yeah, I'll go," he said.

He said if the district does think he's too controversial, he's fine with that.

"There's nothing wrong with saying, `The sheriff is controversial, we're concerned the parents may not like this,'" he said. "OK, why hide the fact? On the other hand, why take it out on the kids because of a political situation?"

Donaldson said Plutschuck also invited other high-profile Arizonans to read to his class, including Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Donaldson said Plutschuck was not commenting on the matter.

Arpaio said he'll be reading to a different class of students on Wednesday at Mirage Elementary School.