Eleven ethnic-studies educators have filed a legal challenge in federal court to a new state law that targets TUSD's Mexican-American studies program for elimination.
The lawsuit names state Superintendent Tom Horne and the Arizona State Board of Education.
The plaintiffs include TUSD's Mexican-American studies director, Sean Arce, and 10 teachers within that department who work at various schools.
The lawsuit claims that the law - formerly HB 2281 - would violate the plaintiffs' rights under the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, specifically citing equal protection, free speech and due process.
The plaintiffs said they believe the law is the product of racial bias aimed specifically at Hispanics.
The suit says Horne was the principal advocate for the passage of the legislation, which he sought for the purpose of having a mechanism that would allow him to "shut down" the Mexican-American studies department in Tucson Unified School District.
The lawsuit further says that since the bill was signed into law, Horne has repeatedly and publicly stated that he intends to find TUSD's program to be in violation, despite never having visited a classroom and not having any lawful facts to support his claim.
Horne responded to the lawsuit by saying the plaintiffs had it backward.
"If there's racial discrimination involved here, it's in dividing students by race when they should be treated as individuals and taught to treat each other as such," Horne said. "The law isn't limited to Hispanic programs; it refers to all racial programs. But the complaints I've gotten are about raza studies, and in terms of enforcement, that becomes the first priority."
Richard Martinez, who represents the plaintiffs, said he intends to file a motion for a restraining order that would prevent the law from taking effect on Dec. 31.
He added that although it's not written into law, the legislation was aimed at one group - Hispanics - and that Horne hasn't been bashful about it.
"He's narrowed it down to the Mexicanos who can't learn about their culture, their language, their art, their contributions, their history," Martinez said.
Arce said he is serving as a plaintiff to defend the teaching of Mexican-American history, culture and contributions so that his own children and the TUSD students can benefit from it. He added that the program is a proven educational model that has allowed the the district to successfully engage students in a relevant, rigorous course of work, and it has produced students who are closing the achievement gap.
The new law, signed into effect in May, prohibits courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group; and that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.
The Arizona Department of Education can withhold up to 10 percent of monthly aid for districts found in violation. For TUSD, that amount is estimated to be about $3 million a month. The school district would have the right to appeal the decision.
The lawsuit claims that if Horne finds TUSD in violation, it would cause immediate and irreparable harm to the plaintiffs, including the elimination of the Mexican-American studies department and the loss of employment.
Horne has long contended that the ethnic studies courses at TUSD - specifically Mexican-American studies - promote ethnic chauvinism. After passage of the law, the TUSD Governing Board adopted a resolution denying that the district's program promotes any of the prohibited items listed and stating that the courses are designed for all students.
Horne has also since requested that TUSD videotape Mexican-American studies courses over the fall semester to be used as evidence that would show whether it is in violation of the new law. The district denied the request, calling it a "political ploy."
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175.