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Updated Jan 2, 2015, 7:47 pm Originally posted Jan 2, 2015, 5:23 pm
In his final business day in office, the lame-duck head of public education in Arizona fired one last shot at Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies program.
Late Friday afternoon, State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal sent out a public statement saying the school district was not in compliance with an agreement made between district and the the Arizona Department of Education in 2012.
TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said the move is an "attempt to circumvent ... federal court orders" in a desegregation case, in which a settlement requires culturally relevant courses.
If the district does not respond to his finding by March 4, Huppenthal wrote, TUSD could lose 10 percent of its state funding.
Sanchez said he was surprised by the statement. In an interview Friday, Sanchez said that in November, state officials visited Pueblo and Tucson high schools, but told him that they didn't find anything out of compliance.
"They came to the schools without telling my office and they never spoke to the principals of either school," said Sanchez. "So, I requested a meeting with (Huppenthal) but he never responded"
In December, the state office asked to review the revised Mexican American Studies program after Pueblo Principal Augustine Romero was captured on video saying during a national multicultural conference held in Tucson that the banned curriculum was back in the classroom.
Ethnic studies at TUSD has been a bugbear for Huppenthal since he took the state superintendent's office in 2011.
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"Political indoctrination of Arizona’s children has no place in our schools, and I will always fight for what is in the best interest of Arizona students," said Huppenthal during a public meeting in August.
The district must walk a tightrope between the state law, A.R.S. 15-112, and the settlement agreement in a decades-long federal desegregation case that requires TUSD to offer "culturally relevant curricluum."
"The state of Arizona has repeatedly attempted to intervene in the districts active desegregation case for the stated purpose of controlling the district's implementation of federal court-mandated curriculum," Sanchez said in an emailed statement. "These courses were developed specifically under the court order. That order — the Unitary Status Plan — requires us to develop and implement culturally relevant courses taught from both the Mexican American and African American perspectives."
"A few weeks ago, a federal appellate court again rejected the state's effort to intervene in the desegregation case," the TUSD superintendent said. "This threatened enforcement proceeding is nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the federal court orders denying the state's intervention. It seeks to undermine our compliance with the curriculum mandates of the Unitary Status Plan."
In Friday's press release, Huppenthal said that during his tenure he has closely monitored culturally relevant classes at the district.
Huppenthal wrote that "after a thorough review of materials from TUSD’s culturally relevant courses" he believed the district was in violation of the 2012 settlement and Arizona law, which bans classes that promote resentment toward a particular race, the overthrowing of the government or advocate ethnic solidarity rather than treating students as individuals.
Among the course offering that Huppenthal alleges violate state law were a teacher's use of the Rage Against the Machine song "Take the Power Back," and an "Introduction to Hip Hop" by rapper KRS-One, as well as the inclusion of what he called "substantial Mexican history" in a Tucson Magnet HIgh School class on U.S. History with a culturally relevant Mexican American perspective.
Huppenthal also attacked the district's African American Studies program, declaring it also out of compliance. He also said that district had failed to provide materials, but Sanchez said that the district had provided everything that was requested.
"This process has been made challenging by the fact that the district has failed to fully respond to several requests for information and has been inconsistent in its application of materials that have been provided," Huppenthal wrote.
"In issuing this finding before classes resume, I am hopeful that the district will take immediate action to comply with the law," Huppenthal wrote.
TUSD classes begin Monday, following the holiday break.
Cam Juarez, a TUSD Governing Board member, called the move a "political joke."
"It's like the president declaring war on his last day in office," Juarez said. "There's no way he can follow through."
Instead, Juarez said the district was looking forward to working with the incoming superintendent.
The press release sent out at 3:43 p.m. was effectively the last act of Huppenthal's run as state superintendent. On Monday, incoming superintendent Diane Douglas will replace Huppenthal.
Douglas was elected to the office in November, after seizing the nomination for the office during the Republican primary in August, when GOP voters refused to include Huppenthal on the general election slate.
Douglas went on to beat Democrat David Garcia for the state office.
Sanchez said that the district is "eager to work with (Douglas) as we continue to satisfy both state and federal law," noting that she "emphasized local control for curriculum decisions" during her election campaign.
In January 2012, Huppenthal forced the school board into compliance by threatening to withhold 10 percent of the budget and the Governing Board put the program to rest fearing that a long legal fight would hurt the district.
The law that targeted TUSD's former Mexican American Studies program was pushed through the Legislature by Tom Horne, who was state superintendent himself before becoming Arizona's attorney general.
Horne, who also lost in the Republican primary as he attempted to win re-election, pushed for a law effectively banning the courses after a 2006 incident at Tucson High, in which activist Dolores Huerta gave a speech to students, commenting that "Republicans hate Latinos."
Horne then sent his deputy superintendent to speak at the high school.
Margaret Dugan, a Latina Republican, rebutted Huerta's remarks, and was met by students who turned their backs on her and raised their fists in the air as she spoke, protesting that Dugan wouldn't take student questions.
Horne called the incident a result of students' classroom instruction.
After years of work, Horne helped push a law affecting the program —HB 2281— through the Legislature in 2010. In his last days as state schools chief, he declared that TUSD was in violation.
Both Horne and Huppenthal's previous campaigns relied heavily on their fight against the MAS program.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorreclty reported the year in which Huppenthal was elected.
TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.