The Tucson Unified School District is backing down from requiring freshmen to take a "culturally relevant" course in the fall.
The decision to delay implementation of the course - titled "Ninth Grade Culture, Identity and Transformation: A Culturally Relevant Viewpoint" - came after criticism from Governing Board members who were surprised to learn weeks ago students were being enrolled in the class even though the curriculum had not yet been created or approved.
TUSD administrators told the board Tuesday night the class could be ready to roll out for the 2014-2015 school year, but declined to offer an absolute time frame, explaining more time is needed to fully develop and vet the curriculum.
But whenever the class comes back, there is a question whether the course will be mandatory as originally planned.
"This will allow us the time to communicate further with parents, to explore further design with appropriate staff and to provide the board the needed time to determine if the course could or should function as a requirement for graduation," said TUSD Deputy Superintendent Maria Menconi.
The mission of the one-semester course, which was going to be piloted at Rincon, Sahuaro and Santa Rita high schools this fall, is to teach students to appreciate and value differences among people and the importance of sensitivity to other cultures, TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said. There is also a focus on study, researching and presenting concepts in a way that moves students toward common core standards.
The curriculum was put together by a team of TUSD high school teachers and members of the district's Student Equity department. It has gone through two review phases, the first of which involved professors from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University. The second review was conducted by professors from other U.S. universities.
While the course development is nearly done, revisions continue to be made and more planning is needed, including on how high schoolers would work it into already tight schedules, district administrators said.
Board member Michael Hicks was pleased that the initiative is not moving forward quite yet.
"It was the way it was presented and brought up," Hicks said. "When you start doing that type of requirement with no curriculum … and with the charge of 'like it or not,' people are going 'wait a minute,' " Hicks said.
Despite criticism about a new requirement being sprung on the board on such short notice, board members Kristel Ann Foster and Cam Juarez said they would prefer going ahead with the class this coming school year.
"Going too far out is going to be problematic," Juarez said. "The elephant in the room is that this is a politically charged course and it shouldn't have to be. … This is just public education; this is what we're modifying so we can reach out to the students we're losing. I'm looking forward to seeing this curriculum and implementing it and getting our kids to not fall through those cracks again."
Added Foster: "I am miffed that something so important was mistreated and miscommunicated. … I believe in the people who are working on this, and what happened is devastating to the community's understanding and perceptions. So we move forward and work around that, but we don't stop this process."
While board President Adelita Grjialva said she valued the work that has been done, she felt more conversation is necessary before students are placed in the class.
Though the ninth-grade course is not moving forward, TUSD will offer other culturally relevant and multicultural courses to 11th and 12th graders in the fall.
The multicultural classes were ordered by the Governing Board in 2012 when it eliminated Mexican American Studies courses that were found to be in violation of state law.
The board at that time directed the district to revise the social-studies curriculum to include a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints.
The culturally relevant courses are part of a federal desegregation plan designed to bring TUSD schools into racial balance.
Like the ninth-grade curriculum, those two sets of courses are still being developed and have yet to be approved by the Governing Board. But unlike the class that was put on hold, they are not required classes.
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Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea