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Horne files objection over possible revival of ethnic studies program

Attorney General Tom Horne (Arizona Capitol Times photo)

Attorney General Tom Horne is back in court again fighting to keep a Mexican American Studies program out of the Tucson Unified School District.

Horne filed an objection in U.S. District Court in Tucson Thursday to a portion of a proposed federal desegregation plan that would require the school district to establish “culturally relevant courses of instruction designed to reflect the history, experiences, and culture of African American and Latino Communities” beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

That provision, Horne wrote in his objection, would allow the district to re-establish the Mexican American Studies program, which the district disbanded after an administrative law judge found it in 2011 to be in violation of state law.

“An order to TUSD to create courses designed for students of a particular race or to implement curriculum that is not aligned to the state’s standards violates the state’s laws and its right to determine educational policy,” Horne wrote.

The state is not a party in the nearly 40-year-old discrimination lawsuit from which the desegregation proposal stems, but Judge David Bury allowed Horne to object through an amicus brief.

Horne argues that a court order requiring the cultural instruction would be unprecedented because there has been no finding that the district’s curriculum violated anyone’s civil rights. He also argued that the classes would violate state law and promote segregation.

The school district also objected to the provision in the desegregation proposal. The district said in its written objection there is no legal or factual basis for the district to be required to offer specific classes because the only count relating to curriculum was dropped in 1977 by the plaintiffs.

Horne championed a law passed in 2010 written to shut down the Mexican American Studies program. The law forbids classes that promote ethnic solidarity, promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or promote resentment towards a race or class of people.

Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal found the district to be out of compliance with the law, a finding the district challenged in an administrative hearing. Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal ruled Dec. 27 that the program has classes that are designed for Hispanics as a group and promotes racial resentment against Anglos and advocates ethnic solidarity for Hispanics.

The district dropped the program in January to stop the penalty of lost state aid, which would have amounted to about $15 million a year.

The desegregation proposal stems from a 1974 discrimination lawsuit against the district brought by African American and Latino students. The suit was settled in 1978, and the Mexican American Studies program, originally known as La Raza Studies, was established in 1998 under that settlement, but the program wasn’t subject to court supervision.

A federal judge ended oversight of the district in 2009, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. Bury appointed a Special Master to work with the parties to come up with a proposed plan, which was filed earlier this month.

Critics of the program have said the teaching methods are brainwashing and the courses teach that Latinos are victims of white oppression and they need to rise against them.

“The teachers and administrators in the former MAS program were radical socialist activists who promoted an anti-capitalist and anti-Western Civilization ideology,” Horne wrote. “They used ethnic solidarity as their vehicle of delivery.”

Proponents have said students find the classes to be more relevant to their lives and encourage them to study harder, leading to higher graduation rates among Latinos.

Horne targeted the program after civil rights icon Dolores Huerta told students at an April 2006 assembly that “Republicans hate Latinos.”

Horne, who was the Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time, 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, some students raised their fists in the air and turned their backs on her before walking out.

 

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