The Tucson Unified School District will request an administrative hearing to appeal Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal's decision regarding its Mexican American Studies program.
The Governing Board gave TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone permission to do so following a 4-1 vote Friday. Board President Mark Stegeman cast the no vote.
TUSD will hire outside counsel to file the request next week. A hearing is expected to be scheduled within 60 days.
Pedicone hopes to gain clarity through the administrative hearing process and gain insight into what Huppenthal would find to be an acceptable remedy. It would still be the board's decision on how to move forward from there.
In voting against the hearing, Stegeman said that though he supports the infusion of Mexican American history and culture into the curriculum, he has concerns about the fact that some of the program's courses were never approved by the board and others may have been approved in improper fashion.
His solution would be to cancel the courses for the fall semester and re-create the Mexican American Studies program going through the proper policies and approval processes.
Prior to Stegeman's final vote, tensions rose in the boardroom with Michael Hicks also voting against the hearing and Miguel Cuevas abstaining. Adelita Grijalva demanded to know why they voted as they did, essentially putting millions in state funding at risk.
Grijalva criticized Stegeman's dissenting vote, calling his comments disrespectful and saying he is not an expert in how the curriculum should be administered.
After some discussion and a plea from Pedicone to re-evaluate their positions, Hicks moved to take another vote, this time supporting the district going forward with a hearing, and the vote passed.
Meanwhile, Huppenthal has responded to criticism of his decision to disregard the findings of a $110,000 audit he ordered, which found no evidence that the program is in violation of state law and even recommended that the courses be maintained as part of the district's core curriculum.
Huppenthal released a statement Thursday saying the audit - conducted by Cambium Learning and National Academic Educational Partners - was "limited in its usefulness" because it was based on "limited classroom observations."
He noted concerns that TUSD knew the week auditors would be observing classrooms, but teachers say they weren't given a specific day or time and argue that if they had known, they wouldn't have changed the content or their teaching approach.
Huppenthal also points to the fact that auditors identified curriculum units that contain questionable commentary and inappropriate student text. What he does not mention is that auditors were unable to determine if those units are currently being taught or continue to be distributed.
Rather than rely solely on the audit he commissioned, he obtained information from outside sources and made his final determination using the "totality of the information and facts gathered."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona believes that Huppenthal's decision was politically motivated and was not based on an objective assessment of the program.
"This law was deliberately written to enable the state superintendent to ban the Mexican American Studies program based on his own personal views and biases," said ACLU of Arizona Director Daniel Pochoda.
Richard Martinez, an attorney representing a group of Mexican American Studies educators who are challenging the law in court, agreed: "Essentially we've been given a clean bill of health and yet we have those with political agendas moving in the opposite direction."
State Sen. Steve Gallardo also voiced concerns about Huppenthal's finding, calling for a review by the Senate Education Committee.
The state law in question was aimed at TUSD's ethnic studies program. It was signed into law in May 2010 and went into effect this year.
It 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 race; advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Huppenthal says the TUSD program violates all the criteria except for promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government.
The educators challenging the law are planning to file a motion for preliminary injunction requesting that the judge place the Huppenthal finding on hold and prevent him from withholding any funding.
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175.