TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Arizona has enacted an unconstitutional law that chills speech and will cut 10 percent of the money due to Tucson’s public schools unless the district kills its Mexican-American Studies Department, 11 teachers claim in Federal Court. The teachers, all bilingual and Hispanic, say the state school board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction persuaded the Legislature to enact H.B. 2281 with the bogus claim that Mexican-American Studies advocates “the overthrow of the U.S. government.”
Gov. Jan Brewer signed H.B. 2281 into law on May 11. It takes effect on Dec. 31.
“Since House Bill 2281 was signed into law, Defendant Tom Horne as the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Executive Officer of the Arizona State Board of Education, has stated repeatedly and publicly that he intends to find the Tucson Unified School District No.1 Mexican-American Studies Department to be in violation of ARS § 15-112(A), a determination that 60 days thereafter would result in directing the Arizona Department of Education to withhold 10% of the monthly apportionment of State aid that would otherwise be due to Tucson Unified School District No. 1,” the complaint states.
“Since House Bill 2281 was signed into law, Defendant Tom Horne as the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Executive Officer of the Arizona State Board of Education, has determined that the Tucson Unified School District No.1 Mexican-American Studies Department to be in violation of ARS § 15-112(A), thus “[p]romotes the overthrow of the United States Government.”
The teachers sued Horne and the 10 members of the state school board, in their official capacities. They claim H.B. 2281 and Horne’s threatened financial punishment violates the First and 14th Amendments.
Horne, who is running for Arizona attorney general as a Republican, “was the principal advocate for the passage of House Bill 2281, legislation that he sought for the purpose of having a mechanism that would allow him to ‘shut down’ the Mexican-American Studies Department,” according to the complaint.
The law allows the superintendent of public instruction to deny money to state-funded classes that he believes “promote the overthrow of the United States government”; “promote resentment towards a race or class of people”; “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group;” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
The bill exempts “classes for Native American pupils that are required to comply with federal law.”
The teachers claim that Horne persuaded the same Legislature and governor that enacted S.B. 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law, to approve H.B. 2281 “as a result of racial bias and anti-Hispanic beliefs and sentiments.”
Horne “has engaged in a consistent pattern of conduct that has chilled the use of text books, material, posters, content, and the name of the Mexican-American Studies Department by all plaintiffs, thus impermissibly infringing on their free speech,” according to the complaint.
The teachers point out, among other things, that Tucson Unified School District No. 1 is 61 percent Hispanic, Tucson High School 67 percent Hispanic, Pueblo High School 89 percent Hispanic and Wakefield Middle School 92 percent Hispanic. The plaintiff teachers work in those and other schools in TUSD No. 1.
Horne said in a statement that he has “letters from teachers and former teachers detailing the radical agenda that takes places in these classes.”
He added, “It is fundamentally wrong to divide students up according to their racial group and teach them separately. That is why HB 2281 was passed, to put an end to these divisive programs and to dividing students by race in the 21st century.”
TUSD No. 1 inaugurated its Mexican-American Studies Department in 1998. The teachers say that evaluations of their department “have consistently shown that students who take and complete … course offerings pass the state required AIMS test at higher rates, graduate from high school are higher rates, have improved grades and matriculate to college at high rates while decreasing in the areas of discipline, poor attendance or dropping out of high school.”
They want Horne and the state school board “permanently enjoined from engaging in any action that harms the … Mexican-American Studies Department, administrator, educators or staff.”
They are represented by Richard Martinez.