TUCSON (CN) – The ACLU wants to see the records from Arizona’s review of Tucson Unified School District’s embattled Mexican-American Studies Program, which the state is trying to close down, claiming it promotes the overthrow of the U.S. government. The ACLU says it does no such thing, and the state knows it.
After months of review, Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal last week said that the ethnic studies program is illegal. He gave the district 60 days to bring the classes up to code or lose 10 percent of its monthly state aid until it does.
The law which Huppenthal says the program violates, passed last year by the state’s largely Republican Legislature, prohibits public schools from offering classes that “promote overthrowing the U.S. government”; “promote resentment towards a race or class of people”; “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race”; or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
The ACLU says that former state school Superintendent Tom Horne – now the Arizona attorney general – wrote the law and pushed it through the Legislature specifically to get rid of Tucson USD’s program, and that Huppenthal is continuing the crusade.
A recent audit of the program by Cambium Learning and National Academic Educational Partners found no evidence that the program breaks the law.
“As is clear from the legislative history of this bill, a small group of public officials led by Tom Horne began a politically and racially discriminatory campaign almost four years ago to destroy a program that dared to break from traditional texts and teach tolerance and multiculturalism,” ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze said in a statement.
But Huppenthal said that his report showed that the program illegally promotes ethnic solidarity and racial resentment, and is designed for a single ethnicity.
“In addition to the reviewed classroom materials and instructional content, the Mexican American Studies Department website clearly indicates the program is primarily designed for pupils of a particular ethnic race,” Huppenthal said in a statement under his office’s letterhead. “Reviewed Mexican American Studies Program materials repeatedly emphasize the importance of building Latino nationalism and unity versus identifying students as individuals.”
The outside audit of the program, of which Huppenthal approved, found that “no evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat student[s] as individuals.”
The auditors also found that “no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within [TUSD] is in direct violation of the law,” and that the “courses promote a culture of excellence and support a safe and orderly environment conducive to learning.”
It added: “No observable evidence exists that instruction promotes overthrow of the US Government,” at any grade level.
In its review of the high school course, Cambium and National Academic Education Partners found: “No observable evidence exists that instruction promotes overthrow of the US Government. During the audit team’s visits, the American government was taught as it exists in terms of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. At no time was any conversation even remotely relevant to the overthrow of the US government. Environmental materials located in these four classrooms represent both traditional American culture and Mexican American culture.”
The ACLU of Arizona’s legal director Daniel Pochoda said in a statement: “This law was deliberately written to enable the state superintendent to ban the Mexican American Studies program based on his own personal views and biases. By all indications, this is a political determination by Superintendent Huppenthal that is not based on an objective assessment of the program as the thorough review of the state’s own contractor clearly reveals.”
In a letter to the Arizona Department of Education, the ACLU “demands access to all of the information used by Huppenthal in making the determination that the TUSD Mexican American Studies Program is out of compliance with state law.”
Teachers have sued Huppenthal and the Arizona Board of Education in Federal Court. They claim the bill barring ethnic studies violates the First and 14th Amendments, and want the state “permanently enjoined from engaging in any action that harms the Tucson Unified School District No. 1 Mexican-American Studies Department, administrator, educators, staff or students.”