Court upholds law barring ethnic studies

Proponents of MAS classes vow fight will continue to invalidate state's ban
2013-03-12T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:47:30Z Court upholds law barring ethnic studiesAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A state law targeting Mexican American Studies courses has been upheld by a federal judge.

In his ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima said federal courts respect the state's authority to regulate public school education, but noted that there may be a misunderstanding of the purpose and value of ethnic studies courses.

Supporters of the Tucson Unified School District's now-closed Mexican American Studies program, who sued challenging the law, will decide within the next few days whether to seek reconsideration of the decision or file an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The effort to invalidate (the law) will continue," a news release from the organization Save Ethnic Studies said. "Too much is at stake."

Even with Tashima's ruling, TUSD is working on developing culturally relevant courses that focus on the history, experiences and culture of black and Latino communities to be offered next school year, as ordered under the district's decades-long federal desegregation case.

The judge in the desegregation case stipulated the state does have the option of scrutinizing the new courses under the existing law, known as HB 2281.

The law prohibits Arizona school districts and charter schools from including in their programs of instruction classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals; and are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

Tashima did find one provision of the statute unconstitutional - the one that bars classes designed for pupils of a particular group.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who led the battle against the courses as state superintendent of public instruction, said the ruling is "a victory for ensuring that public education is not held captive to radical, political elements and that students treat each other as individuals - not on the basis of the race they were born into."

The superintendent of public instruction is charged with identifying violations of the law, as Horne did for the Tucson Unified School District in 2010.

That was followed by a second finding of violation by Horne's successor, John Huppenthal in 2011, saying the TUSD program violated all of the criteria with the exception of promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government.

TUSD appealed, but lost, so in 2012, the Governing Board eliminated the courses under a threat of losing millions in state funding.

The federal court challenge was brought by 10 TUSD Mexican American Studies teachers and the director of the program, along with two TUSD students who claimed the law was overly broad, vague and violated their rights to free speech and equal protection.

The judge determined that the statute does not proscribe the rights of students to speak freely in the classroom, but is directed at school curriculum.

The court acknowledged the statute restricts the students' right to receive information by limiting the scope of curricular material, but determined that the restriction is not unconstitutional.

Tashima wrote of Horne's actions, "This single-minded focus on terminating the MAS program is at least suggestive of discriminatory intent."

But he said, "Although some aspects of the record may be viewed to spark suspicion the Latino population has been improperly targeted, on the whole, the evidence indicates the state targeted the MAS program, not Latino students, teachers, or community members who supported or participated in the program."

On StarNet: Find more education and TUSD news and resources at azstarnet.com/education

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

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