Tucson ethnic-studies program violates Arizona law, judge says

Supporters of ethnic-classes rally in Arizona.
The Tucson school district's Mexican American studies program violates state law, an Arizona administrative law judge ruled Tuesday, paving the way for the possible demise of the program.

The judge affirmed a prior decision by the state's schools chief that the Tucson Unified School District's program violates a law that aims to outlaw divisive ethnic studies classes.

In June, John Huppenthal, the state superintendent of public instruction, had deemed the program to be in violation of the law. That law, among other things, bans classes primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people."

The school district appealed the ruling, and testimony before the administrative law judge concluded in October. 

The decision by the judge, Lewis D. Kowal, is merely a recommendation to Huppenthal, who can now take action against the program if it does not come into compliance with the law. 

Should the program not come into compliance -- as Huppenthal sees it -- the district could lose about $15 million in state aid.

Program proponents say the classes push Latino students to excel and teach a long-neglected slice of America's cultural heritage: Chicano perspectives on literature, history and social justice.

Opponents of the program — led by Huppenthal, a veteran state senator elected superintendent of public instruction last year — say that by framing historical events in racial terms, the teachers promote groupthink and victimhood.

In a separate case, 11 teachers and two students from the school district have sued over the law, contending that it's unconstitutional; they've requested an injunction to halt the law's implementation.

Last week, a federal judge in Tucson heard arguments for the injunction, but will soon decide on a motion by Huppenthal to dismiss the case. Should the case be dismissed, the issue of an injunction would be moot.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: Faculty and students, including Fernando Valenzuela, right, take part in a May protest against a law that would ban Mexican American studies and other ethnic study programs at Tucson Unified School District schools. Credit: James S. Woods

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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