Former Arizona School Counselor Who Organized Drag Show for Students Arrested for Alleged Inappropriate Relationship with 15-Year-Old Student

A former Arizona high school counselor who helped organize a drag show for students has been arrested for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old student.

Zobella Brazil Vinik, 29, who resigned on May 5 from Tucson Unified School District, is accused of having the inappropriate relationship off school grounds with a 15-year-old student, KOLD News 13 reported Friday.

According to the news article, after receiving a report on May 3 about the alleged inappropriate relationship, the Tucson Police Department’s detectives “conducted interviews and searched electronic devices” before arresting Vinik May 11.

The interim complaint indicated Vinik’s ex-wife contacted police after discovering evidence of the relationship between Vinik and the minor.

According to KVOA News 4, police said Vinik’s ex-wife said the couple had been “allowing the 15-year-old to live with them in their home.”

The ex-wife added Vinik and the minor had been sleeping together and that she had recently discovered Vinik’s “underwear hidden under a pillow on the bed” used by the student.

The Tucson Police Department said review of the cellphone information seized in search warrants allegedly “revealed inappropriate messages between the two that supports a sexual/romantic relationship.”

The minor reportedly initially denied having a relationship with Vinik, but then admitted to police the romantic relationship began in February. The student expressed awareness the relationship was “bad because of Zobella’s age.”

Tucson Unified Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo released the following statement:

On May 4th, 2022, detectives from the Tucson Police Department Sexual Assault Unit informed the administration of Tucson High Magnet School of an ongoing investigation into one of its counselors, Zobella Brazil Vinik.

The administration was informed of an alleged inappropriate relationship between the counselor and a 15-year-old student from Tucson High.

Working with the Tucson High administration, the District administration acted swiftly to remove the counselor from campus and place her on administrative leave.

Our School Safety Department immediately initiated a comprehensive investigation into this alleged incident, which is currently ongoing.

On Thursday May 5th, 2022, Ms. Vinik resigned her position from the Tucson Unified School District and is no longer an employee of the district. The Tucson Unified School District administration will continue to cooperate with the Tucson Police Department in its ongoing investigation.

Our administration will continue to emphasize the health and safety of our students as our highest priority.

Vinik reportedly turned herself in to detectives Wednesday after police informed the high school that detectives found probable cause for arrest. She was eventually charged with one count of sexual conduct with a minor and was booked into the Pima County Jail, police said.

Vinik previously served as a counselor for Tucson High Magnet School’s “Q Space,” one of the school’s “After School Special Interest and Clubs.”

“In this space students will learn about LGBTQIA+ history, create community, and engage in individual and group work exploring identity and collaborating to discover community care and joy,” the website states. “Mondays 3:30-4:30 in M317 with counselors Sunday and Zobella.”

In March, AZ Free News reported Tucson High Magnet School (THMS) had announced it would be holding its first 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.

AZ Free News also provided biographical information about Vinik:

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.

Karla Escamilla, Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) spokeswoman, emphasized the drag show was an activity coordinated by TUSD students, not staff.

“The event is a student club activity,” she said:

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 setup),” Escamilla told AZ Free Press.

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]

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