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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Latino Studies Program Is Too Divisive for Ariz.

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Tucson Unified School District's already battered Mexican-American studies program took what could be a knock-out hit Tuesday when an administrative law judge agreed that the program violates a new state law proscribing the promotion of racial division and ethnic solidarity.

Coursework in the Mexican-American studies program promote "social or political activism against the white people," the judge found.

Such ideology is illegal under a law passed by Arizona's Republican-led Legislature after it was championed by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, now state attorney general. The law prohibits public and charter schools in the state from offering 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, and advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

In his bid to succeed Horne as schools superintendent last year, John Huppenthal campaigned against the popular Mexican-American studies (MAS) program, which Tucson's largest school district has offered for 12 years. An outside consulting group found otherwise, but Huppenthal declared the program to be in violation of the law once he was elected.

In a much-anticipated ruling, Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal agreed with Huppenthal, laying the foundation for the district to potentially lose millions of dollars of state aid if officials refuse to get rid of the program.

"The examples from the MAS program cited in the above findings of fact, as well as the weight of the testimony presented, establish that the MAS program has classes or courses designed for Latinos as a group that promotes racial resentment against 'Whites,' and advocates ethnic solidarity of Latinos," Kowal wrote.

The judge added that while the law "permits the historical (objective) instruction of oppression that may, as a natural but unintended consequence, result in racial resentment or ethnic solidarity," the TUSD program takes this too far. (Parentheses in original.)

"However, teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner, which is what occurred in MAS classes," he wrote. "Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity, instead of treating pupils as individuals."

Huppenthal said that he would issue a final ruling on the program in the "near future."

"I was very pleased to receive Judge Kowal's decision today affirming the ruling that I made on June 15 that TUSD's Mexican American studies program was in violation of A.R.S. § 15-112," he said in a statement.

"In my role as state superintendent of public instruction I have a legal responsibility to uphold the law and a professional imperative to ensure that every student has access to an excellent education. Upon taking office on January 3, 2011, I was faced with the immediate circumstance of the Tucson Unified School District being found in violation of A.R.S. §15-112 by the outgoing superintendent. Instead of making a snap decision on the matter, the Arizona Department of Education, at my direction, conducted an intensive investigation, spanning many months, of TUSD's Mexican American studies department and its program. In the end, I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation - a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District. The judge's decision confirms that it was the right decision."

A group of the teachers and students have sued Huppenthal and others to have the law declared unconstitutional. They were in federal court last week seeking an injunction. U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima is expected to rule on that issue in the coming weeks.

TUSD spokesperson Cara Rene said that the district is waiting for a final decision from Huppenthal's office, after which the governing board will decide how to proceed.

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