Ariz. Schools Chief Rules Ethnic Studies Out of Compliance

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 16, 2011 2 min read
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John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, has determined that the Mexican-American studies at Tucson Unified School District are violating a state law banning courses in public schools that advocate ethnic solidarity. He’s giving the district 60 days to come into compliance or lose 10 percent of state funds.

It’s the same determination that Huppenthal’s predecessor, Tom Horne, made before leaving office, but Huppenthal wanted to conduct his own investigation.

Horne had convinced the state legislature to pass a law, which was signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, last April, banning classes that promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnicity or race, advocate ethnic solidarity, or promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Horne acknowledged to me in interviews last year that he didn’t think the courses in Tucson promoted overthrow of the federal government, but he did think they were in violation in respect to the other criteria set out in the law.

Huppenthal has made a similar determination.

In a press release, Huppenthal said that materials used in the courses submitted to the Arizona Department of Education and collected by auditors who carried out the investigation promote resentment towards a race or class of people. He contended the school district’s web site “clearly indicates the program is primarily designed for pupils of a particular ethnic race.” Lastly, he said that materials “repeatedly emphasize the importance of building Latino nationalism and unity versus identifying students as individuals.”

Mark Stegeman, the president of Tucson Unified’s school board, is quoted in The Arizona Republic as saying the board might appeal the decision because it believes the courses to be in compliance with the law. John Pedicone, the district’s superintendent, told the newspaper that the district’s administrators would like to preserve the courses “because kids do feel connected to these classes.”

I reported on students’ views of the courses last year after spending two days observing the classes and interviewing teachers and students. (See video below.)

The director for the Mexican-American studies program and 11 teachers in Tucson have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state’s ban of ethnic studies, saying it violates the U.S. constitution.

Photo: Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal announces that the Tucson Unified School District violates state law by teaching its Mexican-American Studies Department’s ethic studies program. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.