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Arizona Monitors Ethnic Studies Classes

TUCSON (CN) - Tucson Unified School District will not lose state funding because of its ethnic studies classes, but will be monitored for the rest of year, Arizona's education chief said Tuesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas' decision came 60 days after her predecessor John Huppenthal, one of the architects of the Arizona ban on classes that, among other things, "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals," said that the district's Mexican-American and African-American history classes violate the controversial state law .

Districts that violate the law, which several students are challenging in Federal Court, can lose up to 10 percent of their state funding.

"Given TUSD's cooperation with the monitoring process and evidence of their attempts to improve compliance with the statute, it is in the best interest of the district's students to move forward without denying any state aid," Douglas said in a statement.

Douglas said that TUSD's ethnic-studies classes do not violate the law, but that she "remains deeply concerned that some TUSD teachers are not following the curricula for the ethnic studies classes."

"While TUSD has clearly corrected a few situations, there is still work to be done," she said.

Passed in 2010 by the Legislature, the law prohibits the state's public schools from teaching classes that "promote the overthrow of the United States government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

The students challenging the law claim it was enacted primarily as a means to kill TUSD's longtime Mexican-American Studies Program.

An administrative law judge found the classes violated the law in 2011, and the district scrapped the curriculum under threat of a huge cut in funding.

U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled for the state on most of the students' court challenges in 2012, citing "the considerable deference that federal courts owe to the state's authority to regulate public school education."

Tashima found that a section of the law barring classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" was overbroad and ambiguous, but otherwise ruled that the ban was not intended to be discriminatory.

An appeal is pending in the 9th Circuit.

Some Mexican-American Studies and African-American Studies courses have since returned to TUSD as part of the district's efforts to comply with a long-running desegregation lawsuit. It was those classes that inspired Huppenthal's recent finding of noncompliance.

Douglas said that in the past two months her office has completed "an extensive review of TUSD's curricula and classroom materials for culturally relevant ethnic studies," and "conducted announced and unannounced visits to individual classrooms."

"I appreciate the state superintendent's willingness to work with our district throughout this process," TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said in a statement. "Together we were able to avoid a costly loss of funding and I remain committed to improving culturally relevant classroom instruction so that in the future monitoring will no longer be required. I am impressed with the dedication that Superintendent Douglas is showing in personally resolving this issue so that TUSD can expand culturally relevant courses while complying with state law."


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