The approval for use of seven books previously removed from Tucson Unified School District classrooms is raising red flags in the Arizona Department of Education.
The books, which were adopted as supplemental materials Tuesday on a 3-2 vote by the TUSD Governing Board, will now be used in English, American history and world history classes at the middle and high school levels.
“Given the prior misuse of the approved texts in TUSD classrooms, the Arizona Department of Education is concerned whether the Governing Board’s actions indicate an attempt to return to practices found to have violated Arizona’s statutes in 2011,” a statement released to the Arizona Daily Star said. “It is the department’s intent to monitor how such materials are used as well as all classroom instruction and to take appropriate corrective action if the district is once again violating the law.”
TUSD did not inform the Department of Education the books would be on Tuesday’s agenda, said department spokeswoman Mary Marshall.
Despite the department’s concerns, the school district is confident the books will be used appropriately , said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, adding, “If I thought otherwise, we would be having a different conversation.” Sanchez confirmed the district did not check with the state, noting it would not have done so for an algebra book either — but said that TUSD legal counsel researched it.
The Department of Education’s statement issued Wednesday is a departure from the stamp of approval it issued just weeks ago after dropping in for unannounced visits at two campuses to observe the “culturally relevant” courses that have been put in place of the Mexican American Studies classes.
After the visit, department officials said they found no specific teaching practice or instructional material that would cause it to take further action to enforce the state law prohibiting 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, or are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
The books were requested by teachers from Roskruge Magnet K-8, Sahuaro High School, Rincon High School, Palo Verde Magnet High School and Pueblo Magnet High School.
The text requested for Roskruge, “500 Years of Chicano History,” edited by Elizabeth Martinez, will be used for a history class for sixth- through eighth- graders. The other books were requested for use by ninth-, 10th- and 11th- graders.
Two of the requesting teachers — Sally Rusk and Jose Gonzalez — previously taught the Mexican American Studies courses. The others did not.
While the requests were from teachers of mainstream classes, the books will also be available for culturally relevant classes.
While the books will again be used in classrooms, they will not be the primary texts . Supplementary materials are designed only to provide additional information for a course or to extend or strengthen the primary textbooks used.
UNIDOS, a youth coalition formed during the Mexican American Studies controversy, called the approval of the seven texts “good news.”
However, the group, which has been a supporter of the Mexican American Studies program, said TUSD still has more work to do.
“There have been horrendous, shameful abuses on our culture and our community,” said UNIDOS member Gabriel M. Schivone. “This has never really been about books. It’s the entire curriculum that was targeted, criminalized and outlawed.”
Mexican American Studies alum Asiya Mir agreed.
“It was a very devastating blow to us when the books were banned,” the 2012 Tucson High graduate said. “Although I’m happy these books are going to be read by students who will likely have their lives affected by the literature, I wish our classes weren’t compromised. It would be beneficial to the students to have these books taught in the way they were previously taught.”
While TUSD Governing Board member Mark Stegeman has reservations about the some of the books and the old courses, he did not agree with the decision to disallow the use of the books.
He tried twice to present a resolution that would have ended the “special treatment” of the books, but when it came to voting Tuesday night, Stegeman did not support what was presented, saying his resolution was different. He was joined by Michael Hicks, who also voted against the approvals.
Stegeman’s intent was that the books be for incidental use, meaning a teacher could bring a copy in and use it in the classroom but would not be able to purchase an entire classroom set.
“Basically, there are two kinds of books — books approved for curriculum by board vote and millions of others that are subject to rules for incidental use,” Stegeman said. “When staff said these seven are out of the classroom, it was like a third category of books that could not be brought in. I never agreed with that.”
Though Stegeman did not support the return of the books in this fashion, he said Tuesday that he did not believe the action alone would land the district in hot water.
“I always felt that the problems with the state and in the courses mainly had to do with how teachers were teaching the course, not with the books,” he said.