Law & Courts

Tucson Officials Stand by Ethnic-Studies Classes

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 04, 2011 4 min read
On his last day as Arizona's schools chief, Tom Horne points to quotations from textbooks used in an ethnic-studies class in Tucson. Mr. Horne informed Tucson school officials last week of his determination that such classes violate a new state law.

In this video from September 2010, Tucson High School students contest charges that ethnic-studies courses teach minority students that they are victims.

On Jan. 3, his last day as superintendent of public instruction in Arizona, Tom Horne announced he had found the Tucson district in violation of a new law that bars public schools from teaching courses that are designed for a particular ethnic group or promote ethnic solidarity. He said the district has 60 days to stop teaching Mexican-American studies or it would lose 10 percent of its state funds. Mr. Horne estimated the district could lose $14.9 million if it doesn’t comply, but the law permits the district to appeal a determination of noncompliance.

“It is fundamentally wrong to divide students up according to their racial group and teach them separately,” wrote Mr. Horne, who was leaving after two terms as state superintendent to become the state’s attorney general.

Meanwhile, John Huppenthal, who replaced Mr. Horne as state schools chief the same day, indicated he is likely to keep up the pressure on the district. He issued a statement saying he agrees with Mr. Horne’s finding that the Mexican-American ethnic-studies program violates the new state law if the program is the same as it was when he visited it in fall 2009. “My firsthand, classroom encounter clearly revealed an unbalanced, politicized, and historically inaccurate view of American history being taught,” Mr. Huppenthal, a former state legislator, said in the statement.

In response to Mr. Horne’s determination letter, John J. Pedicone, who took over as superintendent of the 60,000-student Tucson Unified district last week, posted a letter on the district’s website saying the administration “supports its ethnic-studies programs, and we are encouraged by the real and lasting impact that these departments provide to [district] students.” Mr. Pedicone also said the district will uphold the state’s laws, but he did not single out the law regarding ethnic studies, which went into effect Dec. 31.

The district’s school board, likewise, has reiterated its support for the classes, which have been taught in Tucson schools since 1998. Anticipating Mr. Horne’s announcement, board President Judy Burns sent a letter Dec. 30 to him and Mr. Huppenthal. While urging “a collaborative approach to resolving issues raised by the new law,” the letter also includes excerpts from a resolution approved by the board in May that contends Tucson Unified does not teach ethnic-studies courses in a way that violates the state’s new law.

Brewing Conflict

The letter followed a special board meeting held the same day to address the controversy. At the meeting, the board adopted a new resolution saying it will ensure that the district’s ethnic-studies courses are taught “in accordance with all applicable laws.”

Mr. Pedicone didn’t respond to Education Week‘s requests from for an interview.

Ethnic-Studies Courses Provide Different World View

In this video from September 2010, Tucson High School students contest charges that ethnic-studies courses teach minority students that they are victims.

In October, Tucson teachers and administrators filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state ban on ethnic studies. The teachers “believe that the act is the product of racial bias aimed specifically at Hispanics, is unlawful, [and] results in impermissible deprivations of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit says. It contends that the law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, including the equal protection and due process clauses.

The lawsuit also argues that Mr. Horne has no evidence to show that the Tucson district has violated the state’s ethnic-studies law in the way that it has designed and teaches the courses.

Mr. Horne, a Republican, was a leading proponent of the ethnic-studies law approved by the legislature last year, sparking protests in some Tucson high schools. Mr. Huppenthal, a fellow Republican, also criticized Tucson Unified’s ethnic-studies courses in his campaign last year to become schools chief.

In his Jan. 3 letter to Tucson school officials, Mr. Horne wrote that he has received complaints only about the district’s Mexican-American studies program, so his findings pertain only to that program. He makes no mention, for example, of the district’s ethnic-studies courses about African-Americans or Native Americans.

Interpreting the Law

Mr. Horne contends the program violates the new state law’s provision that no course can be designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group. He acknowledges some students other than Mexican-Americans take the courses but says the law doesn’t use the word “exclusively” but rather “primarily,” and thus applies to courses in Tucson. He also cites purposes of the courses spelled out on the district’s website, such as that they aim to boost “academic proficiency for Latino students” in making the argument that they are intended primarily for a particular ethnic group.

Mr. Pedicone’s letter anticipated the possibility that the growing conflict between the state and the district could spur anew some student protests in support of the continued offering of ethnic studies. He instructed students that they must stay in school and that if they defy that requirement, they will experience “consequences in accordance with school procedure.” The superintendent also directed employees “not to leave campus with students in the event of a student protest.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as Tucson District Holds Firm Despite State Ultimatum on Ethnic-Studies Classes

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
Teaching Webinar
Interactive Learning Best Practices: Creative Ways Interactive Displays Engage Students
Students and teachers alike struggle in our newly hybrid world where learning takes place partly on-site and partly online. Focus, engagement, and motivation have become big concerns in this transition. In this webinar, we will
Content provided by Samsung
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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Student School Board Members Flex Their Civic Muscle in Supreme Court Free-Speech Case
Current and former student school board members add their growing voices to a potentially precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case.
7 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts Justice Department Memo Could Stoke State-Federal Fights Over Transgender Students' Rights
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, a Justice Department memo says.
3 min read
Stephanie Marty demonstrates against a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues outside the South Dakota governor's mansion in Pierre, S.D. on March 11, 2021.
Stephanie Marty demonstrates against a proposed ban on allowing transgender girls and women to play in female sports leagues outside the South Dakota governor's mansion in Pierre, S.D.
Stephen Groves/AP
Law & Courts Diverse Array of Groups Back Student in Supreme Court Case on Off-Campus Speech
John and Mary Beth Tinker, central to the landmark speech case that bears their name, argue that even offensive speech merits protection.
5 min read
In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, Mary Beth Tinker, 61, shows an old photograph of her with her brother John Tinker to the Associated Press during an interview in Washington. Tinker was just 13 when she spoke out against the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband to her Iowa school in 1965. When the school suspended her, she took her free speech case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Her message: Students should take action on issues important to them. "It's better for our whole society when kids have a voice," she says.
In this 2013 photo, Mary Beth Tinker shows a 1968 Associated Press photograph of her with her brother John Tinker displaying the armbands they had worn in school to protest the Vietnam War. (The peace symbols were added after the school protest). The Tinkers have filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a Pennsylvania student who was disciplined for an offensive message on Snapchat.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Sympathetic to College Athletes' Challenge to NCAA Rules on Education Aid
The justices weighed a case about the definition of amateurism in college athletics that may trickle down to high school and youth sports.
6 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
iStock/Getty