Education

Appeals Court Revives Key Claim Against Arizona’s Ethnic-Studies Ban

By Mark Walsh — July 08, 2015 3 min read

A federal appeals court has revived a key part of a legal challenge to a controversial Arizona law that prohibits a so-called ethnic studies curriculum, holding that there was evidence that state lawmakers had a “discriminatory intent” in passing the measure.

“Here, the legislative history of [the law] and the sequence of events (including the administrative history) leading to its enactment reasonably suggest an intent to discriminate,” said the 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco.

The court said it was without question that the 2010 state law targeted the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies program. The program was first launched in 1998 and later expanded under the district’s desegregation plan to teach the contributions of Mexican Americans. More than 60 percent of Tucson’s enrollment is of Mexican or other Hispanic descent.

Some state officials objected to the program as promoting ethnocentrism and reverse racism, and they pushed for the state law that barred schools from including lessons that, among other things, “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.”

Three successive state superintendents of public instruction in Arizona have pressed efforts to shut down Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program under the law, and the district ended the program in 2012 under threat of a loss of state funds.

A group of students and teachers sued in federal court, saying the state law and its enforcement violated their First Amendment free-speech right to receive information and their 14th Amendment right of equal protection.

A federal district court ruled in 2013 that the provision barring curriculum “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” was overbroad under the First Amendment, but that it was severable from the rest of the law. The court largely upheld the rest of the law.

In a July 7 decision in Arce v. Douglas, the 9th Circuit court panel offered a mixed bag. It agreed with the district court that the “ethnic group” provision was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and severable, and it agreed with the lower court that other provisions could be upheld on summary judgment.

But it reversed the district court’s ruling for the defendants on the lawsuit’s equal-protection claims, holding that a trial was needed to weigh whether lawmakers or state education officials acted with a discriminatory intent.

The court said “one of the most telling actions in this entire saga” involved that of John Huppenthal, who supported the law as a legislator and in 2011 became the state’s superintendent of public instruction. He commissioned a study of the Tucson program which found no evidence the Mexican-American Studies program was promoting resentment towards a race or class of people, nor that the classes were targeted to a particular ethnic group since they were open to all students.

Huppenthal rejected the findings of the study he had commissioned, the appeals court said, and conducted a separate investigation of the program focused on its curricular materials before concluding the program violated the state law.

“Whether the motivation behind Huppenthal’s rejection of the [initial] report was based on its alleged deficiencies, or whether it was based on a predetermined intent to find the MAS program in violation of [the law], is a question for the fact-finder to decide,” the appeals court said.

The dissenting judge agreed the equal-protection claim should be sent back to the lower court, but he disagreed that that issue necessarily had to go before a jury. U.S. Circuit Judge Richard R. Clifton said instead that he thought the district court judge could give more consideration to whether to decide the matter on summary judgment.

“The majority opinion conflates antipathy toward Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program with animus toward Mexican-Americans more generally,” Clifton said. “They are not the same.”

Diane Douglas, who has since taken over from Huppenthal as state superintendent, issued a statement that says she continues to support the state law.

“As the country gets excited about the Confederate flag on the capitol in South Carolina, I don’t see why they also would not want to do away with academic segregation and teaching people by their ethnicity rather than as children under the laws of the land and in the sight of God,” Douglas said in the statement.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read