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Huppenthal rejects findings of Tucson ethnics studies audit he commissioned

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal speaks during a June 15 press conference regarding an audit of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program. Although the audit found no evidence that the program violates state law, Huppenthal dismissed the results and declared that the district is in violation of state law anyway. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal speaks during a June 15 press conference regarding an audit of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program. Although the audit found no evidence that the program violates state law, Huppenthal dismissed the results and declared that the district is in violation of state law anyway. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

An audit of a controversial ethnic studies curriculum in the state’s largest school district showed the Mexican American Studies program complies with state law, but the state’s schools chief nonetheless declared the program illegal, a move that threatens to cost Tucson Unified School District 10 percent of its state funding.

Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal commissioned the audit, but dismissed its findings because he said the auditors spent too little time observing classes.

Instead, Huppenthal took about 25 passages from written class materials to find that the program violated three of four prohibitions listed in the law. He found that the courses promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group and advocate solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. He did not find that the program promoted the overthrow of the U.S. government.

At a late afternoon press conference June 15 that he skipped out of after fielding only a few questions, Huppenthal said the nearly month-long audit, conducted by Cambium Learning Group, was a “limited part of the overall investigation that the department had conducted.”

The audit found “no observable evidence” that the TUSD program violates the law, which Huppenthal advocated for in 2010 when he was a state senator.

“In most cases, quite the opposite is true,” read the audit’s 120-page report.

If the classes were in violation of the law, then there would be evidence of an ineffective learning environment. Every class visited showed that the learning environment was conducive to student achievement, according to the report.

Huppenthal never explicitly said he was ignoring the report’s findings, but he was quick to call its conclusions into question.

“I specifically had several concerns with the audit,” said Huppenthal, who spent a month mulling over the audit after Cambium submitted it to his office May 16.

Only one-third of the audit focused on the district’s compliance with the law and the district knew when the auditors would visit classrooms and conduct interviews, Huppenthal said.

“In addition, only 37 percent of the Mexican American Studies Program classrooms were observed,” he said. “Most classrooms were visited just once and for only 30 minutes.”

Few of the learning materials were available for the observation of the auditors and none was given to them.

None of the teachers in the program or its director agreed to participate in the audit.

Richard Martinez, an attorney representing 11 teachers who are challenging the law’s constitutionality in court, wouldn’t allow his clients to participate.

“Despite these limitations, we were able to accumulate substantial information from many sources,” Huppenthal said. “I used the facts found within that information to render my determination.”

As evidence, he cited class materials that referred to white people as oppressors and as oppressing Latinos. He said the materials presented only one perspective of history, “that of the Latino people being persecuted, oppressed and subjugated by the ‘hegemony’ — otherwise known in this material as white America.”

He said proof the classes are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race can be found in the program’s website itself, which he said declares the program was designed for Latino students. Much of the reading material also addresses the reader as being Latino and being oppressed.

The class materials also emphasized the importance of building Latino nationalism and unity, which supports the prohibition against classes that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals, Huppenthal said.

The district now has 60 days to comply or the Arizona Department of Education will begin withholding 10 percent of its monthly apportionment in state aid for as long it is in violation of the law. The district can also appeal the decision in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Huppenthal spokesman Andrew LeFevre said that, based on last year’s figures, the district risks losing up to

$15 million annually. The district will get the withheld money back when it is found to be in compliance.

The district will have to figure out on its own how to come into compliance, Huppenthal said.

Mark Stegeman, president of the TUSD governing board, said the board has scheduled a June 17 executive session with its lawyers to begin formulating its response to the findings.

“The board has consistently taken the position that the program complies with (the law) and I’m not going to say anything to undercut that position,” Stegeman said. “I am concerned about the other statutory violations and I’ll be looking forward to what our counsel and staff say about the legitimacy of those, the ones that have nothing to do with (the law).”

Huppenthal had his assistant superintendent, Kathy Hrubluk, who is in charge of curriculum development and local leadership oversight, review the audit findings in the areas of curriculum, content and teaching practices.

Hrubluk said the district governing board ignored state laws pertaining to curriculum oversight. The Mexican American Studies department operated separately, without oversight and lacked an established curriculum.

“I think, at least to some extent, they’re right,” Stegeman said. “I think the governing board has been lax in its oversight, not just with this program, but with many things in TUSD and I think this program is just an example of lack of oversight by the board and superintendents.”

The program has existed since 1998. It came to the attention of Huppenthal’s predecessor, Attorney General Tom Horne, in April 2006, when civil rights icon Dolores Huerta told students at an assembly that “Republicans hate Latinos.”

Horne followed up on Huerta’s speech by sending his top deputy, Margaret Garcia Dugan, to provide students with an opposing view. During Dugan’s speech, students raised their fists in the air and turned their backs on her before walking out.

Horne crafted the 2010 state law and advocated for its passage. On his last day in office on Jan. 3, he declared the district in violation of the new law.

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