So now, at least, we know the audit didn't matter. It was just a hoop for State Superintendent John Huppenthal to jump through in order to arrive at a foregone conclusion.
In its own way, Huppe's decision to find Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program in violation of state law was a refreshing bit of political honesty.
Here we have an independent audit that vindicates the program, saying it doesn't violate Tom Horne's law. In fact, the audit says the program promotes a culture of respect and excellence. And Huppenthal still found the program in violation.
"During the curriculum audit period, no observable evidence was present to indicate that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law," the audit states on Page 50. "In most cases, quite the opposite is true."
Audit be damned. It never mattered.
"I think, unfortunately, this would have happened no matter the outcome of the audit," Sally Rusk, who teaches history and government for the Mexican American Studies program at Pueblo High, said to me. "It came out in our favor. I feel like it has vindicated us."
In the eyes of some, certainly. But not in the eyes of Huppenthal. And not in the eyes of board President Mark Stegeman, who remarked that "no one seems to be impressed with the audit."
The audit is flawed, critics say. Flawed, flawed, flawed. The director of the program, Sean Arce, refused to cooperate. The auditors only spent on average about 30 minutes in each classroom they visited, and they only visited 37 percent of the classrooms.
It's amazing. Horne wouldn't go into the classes, and now Huppenthal is saying the auditors didn't spend enough time in them.
And yet, this is far more poking and prodding than most educational programs ever receive, and the audit came back with mostly high praise and some reasonable recommendations for the program. Recommendations ranged from reviewing "questionable texts" to ensuring the TUSD board approves course materials and maps out well-defined, long-term and short-term goals.
But often, there was praise:
Again from Page 50: Mexican American Studies courses "promote a culture of excellence and support a safe and orderly environment conducive to learning. Teachers collectively are building nurturing relationships with students and work to improve student achievement, attendance, and graduation."
And from Page 55: "No observable evidence exists that instruction within the Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment toward a race or class of people. The auditors observed the opposite, as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people. … All evidence points to peace as the essence for program teachings."
I wish the students could show more of this outside the classroom. It would give critics less fuel to burn.
Where to go from here?
There is the lawsuit the Mexican American Studies teachers have filed to repeal the law, of course. And there is the district's plan to appeal Huppenthal's ruling. Will that appeal be taken seriously? If anything, The Huppester and Horne have shown the game is rigged.
The whole situation is absurd. Horne crafted a law specifically for TUSD's Mexican American Studies program. An independent audit then found that the program didn't violate that law.
So Huppenthal said the audit didn't matter, and found it in violation anyway. But he didn't offer any ways for the program to be brought into compliance - although several board members see that as a good thing.
And round and round it goes.
Maybe that was the real point. Horne's law has torn apart the district and served as an enormous distraction.
"We are in a very awkward position," teacher Rusk said of the split between the teachers and the district. "And there are hurt feelings."
It has stirred Ethnic Studies supporters and opponents into a frenzy. It's turned teaching our Mexican-American culture and history into something controversial. The best thing that could happen is for a judge to strike down Horne's law, and for the district/program to consider the audit's recommendations.
"This is a great country," board member Adelita Grijalva said. "It's a great country, and to assume that the experience for all ethnic groups, all people, has been the same is naive."
That shouldn't be a controversial statement - but somehow, in this climate, it is.
Contact columnist Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or firstname.lastname@example.org