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Huppenthal decision on TUSD ethnic studies program due

Students work in a Latino Literature class which is part of the Mexican-American Studies program at Tucson High Magnet School. The latest development in the battle over the fate of the program have program teachers and the Pima County Democratic Party squaring off against two Democratic members of the TUSD board. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Students work in a Latino Literature class which is part of the Mexican-American Studies program at Tucson High Magnet School. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has been meeting with lawyers and his top aides in determining whether Tucson Unified School District is in violation of a law that restricts the teaching of ethnic studies.

A team hired to audit the school district’s Mexican American Studies program completed its work about three weeks ago, but Huppenthal, who is known as being very studious and deliberate, hasn’t set a specific time to announce his decision.

The law, passed as HB2281, makes it illegal to teach classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

A school district can lose up to 10 percent of its monthly state funds as long as it is out of compliance.

Huppenthal’s predecessor, Attorney General Tom Horne, found the program out of compliance in the final hours of his term as superintendent of public instruction, but Huppenthal decided to conduct his own review and hired a Dallas firm, Cambrium Learning, to do it.

And although school has been out since May 25, activity surrounding Mexican American Studies has not gone away for the summer.

TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone gave a State of the District address June 2 and discussed his attempts at making peace with the program’s supporters, some of whom in April forced the cancellation of a meeting where the district’s governing board was set to vote on modifications to the program. The Arizona Capitol Times got an advance copy of Pedicone’s remarks, but did not attend the address.

Pedicone said he tried to reach out in letters to two groups and invite them to meet with him in an effort to tone down the level of emotion “for the sake of the district and our students.”

One of his olive branches was not to press charges against the students who took over the April school board meeting.

Pedicone said he received no response from the Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board, a group of University of Arizona professors, elected officials and activists.

The second organization, Unidos, a group of high school students and young adults who stormed the dais and chained themselves to the chairs of the school board in April, was unwilling to meet unless certain conditions were met, Pedicone said.

Pedicone did not say what those conditions were.

Also, on June 2, the 11 teachers who filed suit against the state, filed a motion for summary judgment, which is a routine request in lawsuits to rule in favor of the moving party based on just legal arguments.

The teachers argue in the motion that the law restricts the First Amendment freedoms of the teachers and students and it is too broad and lacks guidance for compliance.

Richard Martinez, attorney for the teachers, wrote that the four prohibitions listed in the law “do not provide the required reasonable notice as to what ideas, phrases or words are prohibited.”

For instance, Martinez argued that the prohibition against classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government would make it illegal to teach the Declaration of Independence because it has references to overthrowing government.

Classes that discuss slavery, lynching or the “Trial of Tears” could create “resentment toward a race or class of people,” Martinez argued.

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