Tom Horne has moved one step closer to ending the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies program by formally laying out his case that the program promotes racial division and portraying his nearly four-year crusade as a stand against segregation.
With just two hours left in his service as superintendent of public instruction and before he was sworn in as attorney general, Horne presented 10 pages of findings that he said proves the district violated all four prohibitions of SB2281, a bill that became law Dec. 31 and places restrictions on ethnic studies programs.
Horne presented the findings at a press conference Jan. 3 that he dubbed a “lame duck session with himself,” during which a reporter suggested that his opponents on the issue might consider him a Bull Connor, the icon of racial intolerance.
“They’re the Bull Connors because they’re re-segregating,” Horne said. “We are the ones standing up for civil rights.”
Horne’s evidence includes three anonymous complaints from teachers in the district, two witnesses who used to teach in the district, a two-sentence statement from a student in a legislative hearing, a couple of quotes from a former director of the program and several passages from text books and class materials.
Horne, who helped draft the law and will represent the state in any legal action that may arise from the conflict with the school district, said it will be up to newly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal to decide whether to withhold 10 percent of the district’s state-aid budget, which amounts to about $15 million.
Huppenthal was a no-show at the press conference, but Horne said Huppenthal didn’t object to what he was doing.
Horne said the only way to compliance for the district would be complete elimination of the program, and he suggested he has the upper hand in the culture clash because it may come down to dollars and cents.
“In my eight years as Superintendent of Schools I’ve never seen a district faced with a substantial loss of funds not come into compliance with state law, and I believe that if this school board were to try to have this school district suffer a 10-percent cut in their budget in order to defy state law, the school board members would be immediately recalled by the parents who would not put up with something like that,” Horne said.
Judy Burns, whose two-year tenure as president of the school board will end Jan. 4, said the district has always maintained it was in compliance with the law and will be enacting a formal policy to make sure it stays in compliance.
She said newly-hired Superintendent, John Pedicone, hopes to negotiate a settlement and has been in touch with Huppenthal.
“We will do everything we can to make sure we are in compliance and we don’t lose that money,” Burns said, adding that the district is in dire financial straits because of a loss of $70 million from the economic downturn of the past few years.
Even if Huppenthal decides to take the money, the district has a right to appeal in the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings, where Horne’s evidence would be tested.
The program has existed since 1998, but it didn’t come to Horne’s attention until April 2006, when civil-rights icon Dolores Huerta said at a student assembly that “Republicans hate Latinos.”
Horne alleged that all of the law’s restrictions have been violated, but he is going to focus on the ones that prohibit classes designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group and prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.
Horne said that although the classes don’t exclude students of particular group, they are “primarily” geared to Hispanics.
He said the program’s web site is filled with references that reveal attempts to segregate students, including descriptions of the Mexican-American Studies program as ‘increased Academic Achievement for Latino Students,’ ‘Academic Proficiency for Latino Students,’ and ‘Academic Identity for Latino Students.’”
Horne also said that former program director Augustine Romero said in a CNN debate with him that they originally named the program La Raza, or “the race,” so students could connect to the indigenous side and Mexican side.
“If one of the purposes of this course is ‘an attempt to connect with our indigenous sides, as well as our Mexican side,’ then obviously the course is designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” Horne said.
Horne is also going to rely on John Ward, a former teacher in the program who claims to have been the target of intimidation and labeled a racist for questioning the curriculum.
“I witnessed firsthand that the TUSD ethnic studies program preyed on smart but very impressionable students. Rather than teaching about the trials and successes of Mexican-American culture, the program offered a single narrative to its students,” Ward said. “The narrative is this: You are a colonized people who have two options. You can either remain willfully subjugated or you can remove the racist colonizers and their power system.”
Ward, who is Hispanic, said the program is administered by zealots who are anti-American and anti-Western civilization.
Horne also presented statements from three other teachers who claimed to have been labeled racists by administrators and students for questioning the curriculum. One teacher wrote about noticing an open resentment by Hispanic students and being accused of “not liking Mexicans.”
Horne listed several text books and class materials whose content he says proves his case.
One of the books is “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” written by Paulo Frere, a Brazilian Marxist.
Horne said a student who testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Ethnic Studies bill was asked whether she could have learned what she was talking about in other courses.
“No, before I took this course I didn’t realize that I was oppressed,” she said. “Now that I took this course, I realize that I am oppressed.”
Horne listed several passages from text books and materials that he said promote racism, uprisings or the contention that parts of the southwestern and western United States were stolen from Mexico.
Jose Angel Gutierrez, author of Occupied America, was quoted by Horne as saying “If the gringo doesn’t get out of our way, we will stampede over him.”
Horne said one book, Mexican American Heritage, gloats about the difficulty the U.S. is having in controlling the border.