PHOENIX - State senators approved legislation aimed at the curbing the ethnic-studies program in Tucson Unified School District.
HB 2281 would make it illegal for a school district to have any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity "instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."
It also would ban classes that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people."
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said the legislation is little more than a thinly disguised effort to quash a program TUSD officials have said was proven academically successful.
According to TUSD officials, the program in the district's Mexican-American studies department simply provides historical information, which conflicts with state School Superintendent Tom Horne's assessment the program is promoting racial hatred and "ethnic chauvinism."
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District officials insisted earlier this year nothing in the program would violate the legislation, if it were to become law.
But Lopez said teachers in the program have told her the measure would affect how they can teach history. Beyond that, she said this level of legislative intervention into how subjects can be taught is academically a bad idea.
To make her point, she proposed schools be prohibited from teaching about the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor because that would promote hatred of people of Japanese ancestry. The proposal was rejected.
She had no better luck with a measure precluding teaching about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Lopez said the 700 incidents targeting Arab-Americans in the nine weeks after the incident prove that teaching about the event promotes resentment toward a class of people.
Lopez said she doesn't really think students shouldn't be taught about those events. She was just trying to make a point.
She did convince senators to adopt a third proposal to make it illegal for schools to refuse to teach about the Holocaust or other incidents of genocide based on race, class or ethnicity.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Lopez was confusing the issue.
"History is one thing," he said. "Misinformation, hateful speech, sedition is not appropriate with my tax dollars."
The measure would not prohibit classes for pupils that are required to comply with federal law. And it would allow classes that include the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students.