Huppenthal finds TUSD in violation of law

2011-06-16T00:01:00Z 2011-06-16T17:33:21Z Huppenthal finds TUSD in violation of lawBy Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 16, 2011 12:01 am  • 

TUSD's Mexican American Studies program has been found to be in violation of state law but Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal offered no remedy on how the district can come into compliance.

Huppenthal's decision came despite an audit's finding that stated the district's program did not violate state law.

In announcing his findings Wednesday in Phoenix, Huppenthal pointed the blame for what he called a "mess" at the district, saying TUSD failed to follow best practices in curriculum development.

"This decision is not about politics; it is about education," Huppenthal said. "I have a legal responsibility to uphold the law and a professional imperative to ensure every student has access to an excellent education."

The Tucson Unified School District now has 60 days to come into compliance or to appeal. Nearly $15 million in annual state funding is at stake should TUSD fail to conform.

A financial loss of that proportion would cripple Tucson's largest district, said Superintendent John Pedicone. But the fate of the program ultimately rests in the hands of the TUSD Governing Board, which will meet Friday in executive session to review the findings and get legal opinion on how to proceed.

Huppenthal's decision comes after a months-long investigation that included an audit, which said there was no evidence indicating that any class in TUSD violated the state law.

"In most cases, quite the opposite is true," the audit, which was released Wednesday, read. "Consider, if classes promoted resentment or ethnic solidarity, then evidence of an ineffective learning community would exist within each school aligned with the Mexican American Studies department. That was not the case. Every school and every classroom visited by the auditors affirmed that these learning communities support a climate conducive to student achievement."

Despite the findings from the audit he ordered, Huppenthal stood behind his decision and argued the TUSD ethnic studies program violated three of four criteria set forth within the law. He said the program:

• Promotes resentment towards a race or class of people.

• Is designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race.

• And advocates ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

The one criteria the program did not violate is that of promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government.

He claimed that materials reviewed repeatedly referenced white people as being "oppressors" and "oppressing" the Latino people and that materials only present one perspective of historical events - that of Latino people being persecuted and oppressed by white America.

Huppenthal also pointed to the fact the TUSD website indicates the program is primarily designed for Latinos.

In regards to advocating for ethnic solidarity, Huppenthal said curriculum and materials emphasize the importance of building Hispanic nationalism and unity in the face of assimilation and oppression.

He did note concerns about the audit to include the fact that only 37 percent of the Mexican American Studies program classrooms were observed, and most classrooms were visited only once for no more than 30 minutes.

He said few materials were available to be observed in the classrooms or were provided to the auditors, and key leadership in the Mexican American Studies department, to include Director Sean Arce, refused to cooperate.

Huppenthal also had his associate superintendent, Kathy Hrabluk who is responsible for the department's work in school improvement, review the findings in relation to curriculum development and local leadership oversight.

What Hrabluk found was a "serious breach of policy, protocol and public trust as defined by the absence of an established curriculum for the program."

She described the program as working in a vacuum with little to no oversight from the school district - a finding that Pedicone agreed with.

He said he has been working to change that culture across the district and has hired a deputy superintendent who is responsible for developing, managing and controlling all components of teaching and learning, such as curriculum, instruction and professional development.

Despite some of the concerns that exist not only with the program, but districtwide, Pedicone said there are positive principles in Mexican American Studies that he'd like to preserve to include offering courses that are relevant to students, the positive relationships that have been formed by the teachers with the students, and the ability to keep kids connected to school.

Pedicone and at least two of the board members - President Mark Stegeman and Adelita Grijalva - were pleased to see that Huppenthal did not prescribe any remedy with his findings.

Grijalva says it gives the district the opportunity to correct any problems and possibly go through mediation.

Stegeman and Grijalva agree they likely wouldn't be comfortable risking $15 million in state funding if it came down to that.

The Mexican American Studies program was created to help bridge the achievement gap for Hispanic students, but it came under fire by former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who is now the state's attorney general.

The state law in question was aimed at TUSD's ethnic studies program. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law, formerly known as House Bill 2281, in May 2010 and it went into effect this year.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.

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