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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Ethnic Studies Ban in AZ Mostly Survives Lawsuit

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Arizona has wide latitude to ban ethnically based public school curricula since it falls within a state's powers to regulate education, a federal judge ruled.

The longtime and now defunct Mexican-American Studies program of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) inspired state lawmakers to enact the ban in 2010.

Under Arizona Revised Statute § 15-112, school districts and charter schools are prohibited from offering classes that "(1) promote the overthrow of the United States government; (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people; (3) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; or (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

Teachers and students challenged it in a federal complaint as unconstitutional and inspired by racism.

Judge A. Wallace Tashima, sitting by designation for the U.S. District Court from the 9th Circuit, dismissed most claims Friday, citing "the considerable deference that federal courts owe to the state's authority to regulate public school education."

"The court recognizes that, in certain instances, defendants' actions may be seen as evincing a misunderstanding of the purpose and value of ethnic studies courses," Tashima wrote in a memorandum filed concurrently with the dismissal order. "Equally problematic is evidence suggesting an insensitivity to the challenges faced by minority communities in the United States. Nevertheless, these concerns do not meet the high threshold needed to establish a constitutional violation, with one exception. Instead, they are issues that must be left to the State of Arizona and its citizens to address through the democratic process."

Tashima did, however, find one section of the law unconstitutional. Section (A)(3), which bars classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," is overbroad and ambiguous, he said.

"Indeed, section (A)(3) threatens to chill the teaching of legitimate and objective ethnic studies courses," Tashima wrote. "The provision certainly is not an outright ban on ethnic studies courses because such courses are not solely for the benefit of members of the ethnicity being studied. But the provision's broad and ambiguous wording could deter school districts from teaching ethnic studies."

Tashima ordered the state not to enforce Section 3 of the law, but otherwise found that the ban was not intended to be discriminatory because lawmakers had targeted the Mexican-American Studies program at TUSD and not the students and teachers themselves.

"Considering the record as a whole, and even drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor, plaintiffs have not shown that defendants acted with discriminatory intent," he wrote. "Although some aspects of the record may be viewed to spark suspicion that the Latino population has been improperly targeted, on the whole, the evidence indicates that defendants targeted the MAS program, not Latino students, teachers, or community members who supported or participated in the program."

Tashima added: "While there may be grounds to question the wisdom of § 15-112 as a policy matter, 'the Constitution presumes that, absent some reason to infer antipathy, even improvident decisions will eventually be rectified by the democratic process and that judicial intervention is generally unwarranted no matter how unwisely we think a political branch has acted.'"

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