Douglas: No cuts - yet - over TUSD Ethnic Studies
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Douglas: No cuts - yet - over TUSD Ethnic Studies

State schools chief Diane Douglas will not cut the budget of Tucson Unified School District over allegations that its Ethnic Studies program violates Arizona law, she said Tuesday. The state will continue to monitor the district's culturally relevant courses, she said.

TUSD faced a possible 10 percent cut to its state funding —about $14 million — if Douglas had found that the court-mandated classes violated state law as alleged by her predecessor.

In a last-minute move before he left office, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal triggered a 60-day review of the classes. Douglas was required to determine if they were in violation by a Wednesday deadline.

“Given TUSD’s cooperation with the monitoring process and evidence of their attempts to improve compliance with the statute, it is in the best interest of the district’s students to move forward without denying any state aid,” Douglas said in a news release.

“I appreciate the state superintendent’s willingness to work with our district throughout this process,” said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez in the release. “Together we were able to avoid a costly loss of funding and I remain committed to improving culturally relevant classroom instruction so that in the future monitoring will no longer be required."

Instead, the state will conduct an ongoing process to review the district. Douglas said she was deeply concerned that some TUSD teachers are not following approved curriculum.

"While TUSD has clearly corrected a few situations, there is still work to be done," she said.

Sanchez joined Douglas at a press conference in Phoenix, saying that he was pleased with the support from the state's education office, and that they would work together to ensure there was "alignment between what's written, what's approved and what is taught in the classroom." 

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Sanchez said that one of the classroom offerings that Huppenthal alleged placed the district in violation — a teacher's use of the Rage Against the Machine song "Take the Power Back" — was no longer taking place.

The fight over TUSD's ethnic studies program returned in early January when Huppenthal took a last-minute shot at the district, writing that TUSD was not in compliance with an agreement made between district and the the Arizona Department of Education in 2012. 

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.

Beyond the inclusion of a song by a rock band, Huppenthal alleged that TUSD violated the law by including an "Introduction to Hip Hop" by rapper KRS-One, as well as what he called "substantial Mexican history" in a Tucson Magnet HIgh School class on U.S. History with a culturally relevant Mexican American perspective.

If the district did not respond to his findings by March 4, Huppenthal wrote, TUSD could lose 10 percent of its state funding — around $14 million. 

On Jan. 7, Douglas and Sanchez met to discuss the issue and Sanchez reported that he was "confident" that they could work together. 

The district remains in a difficult position because it has to thread a needle between the state law, A.R.S. 15-112, and a court-ordered settlement stemming from a decades-long federal desegregation case that requires TUSD to offer "culturally relevant curricluum."

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.

Ethnic studies at TUSD was a bugbear for Huppenthal since he took the state superintendent's office in 2011.

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 in January 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.

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Douglas and Sanchez visiting a University High School classroom on Feb. 20.