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Horne: TUSD ethnic studies illegal
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Horne: TUSD ethnic studies illegal

Schools chief wants ban on 'Raza' studies; District 'passionate' about program

  • Horne

On his final day in office, Arizona schools chief Tom Horne said Tucson Unified School District's must end its Mexican-American studies program. which he said violates a new state law.

Horne scheduled a Monday morning news conference to announce his findings. His term as superintendent of public instruction ends Monday, and he will assume his new office as state attorney general.

Horne said Friday that the TUSD "Raza studies" program violate's the law's requirement that classes not be "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."

TUSD's school board has said that the district's ethnic studies programs comply with the law. The board passed a third resolution in support of the program on Thursday.

TUSD's new superintendent, John Pedicone, said Monday that the district is "passionate about the program," which serves 1200 students. "There's a reason the district has upheld the program for so long."

But Horne, who has said the program "has got to stop," insisted that TUSD scrap Mexican-American studies.

"The only way in which compliance can be effective within the next 60 days is by elimination of the Mexican American Studies program. In view of the long history regarding that program... the violations are deeply rooted in the program itself, and partial adjustments will not constitute compliance," a 10-page finding released by Horne said. "Only the elimination of the program will constitute compliance."

Horne said he targeted the program because all of the complaints he received were related to it, rather than any of the other three components of TUSD's ethnic studies program.

"Three of the four programs could be found in violation under criterion three, courses designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," Horne wrote.

House Bill 2281, which Horne had long pushed for as part of his effort to end the TUSD program (he authored the bill's original draft), took effect Dec. 31.

Horne's finding is dated Dec. 30.

"Our position is we're not out of compliance," Pedicone said. "We'll take the legal action that is appropriate."

HB 2281

The law bans K-12 classes that:

  • Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.
  • Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  • Are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group.
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of students as individuals.

"It becomes the duty of the people of Arizona, through their elected leaders . . . to put a stop to this, and to be sure that taxpayer-funded public schools teach students to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of the race they happen to have been born into," Horne wrote.

The law allows the state Department of Education to withhold 10 percent of a district's state funding, if that district is found in violation of the law. For TUSD, that could amount to $15 million.

In a letter to Horne and incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, TUSD board president Judy Burns called for the parties to work together.

"TUSD holds fast to the belief that Arizona K-12 students, particularly in times of budget crises, are better served when educational entities seek to minimize the strain on human and financial resources by working together, rather than to expend said resources in conflict," she wrote.

Following Horne's declaring that the district is violating the law, Huppenthal will have 60 days to decide whether to withhold state funds from TUSD. The district will appeal Horne's finding, Pedicone said.

The program

Pedicone has said that internal studies show students in Mexican-American studies scored high on the AIMS test, were twice as likely to graduate and three times as likely to go to college than the average.

Horne says the studies are flawed, and said the classes inspire racism, encourage anti-social behavior and teach students that they are oppressed.

TUSD's Mexican-American studies program was launched in 1997. Students learn about Mexican-American culture, ethnic stereotypes, and explore U.S. history from a Chicano point of view.

The department's website says its "students will attain an understanding and appreciation of historic and contemporary Mexican American contributions."

The department says its goals are:

  • Advocating for and providing culturally relevant curriculum for grades K-12.
  • Advocating for and providing curriculum that is centered within the pursuit of social justice.
  • Advocating for and providing curriculum that is centered within the Mexican American/Chicano cultural and historical experience.
  • Working towards the invoking of a critical consciousness within each and every student.
  • Providing and promoting teacher education that is centered within Critical Pedagogy, Latino Critical Race Pedagogy, and Authentic Caring.
  • Promoting and advocating for social and educational transformation.
  • Promoting and advocating for the demonstration of respect, understanding, appreciation, inclusion, and love at every level of service.

The department says it "presents concepts, events, and issues from the perspectives and experiences of Chicanos/Latinos as well as from a range of racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. Presenting material from many different perspectives and points of view allows students to more accurately understand the nation's heritage and traditions."

Horne's findings

Horne's 10-page finding includes little that he has not presented before. It includes a sampling of classroom material he finds objectionable, and selections from letters and columns by teachers against the program.

"It's a lot of old information," Pedicone said. "His evidence of unlawfulness comes from information from other people. He didn't go to any of these classes."

"He made his decision a long time ago," Pedicone said. "He was the original architect of the law."

Horne cited five TUSD teachers — three anonymously — in his finding that the program is illegal.

One teacher, John Ward, taught in the program. Ward, a Hispanic, said he was removed from the program, and that TUSD administrators called him "racist" for questioning it.

According to Horne's finding, one teacher said a Mexican-American studies instructor teachers that "teaches his students that republicans (sic) hate Latinos." Another teacher claimed to have been "attacked repeatedly here at Tucson High by members of the Ethnic Studies department because I question the substance and veracity of their American History and Social Justice Government classes."

Another teacher said "I applaud your keen and daring actions against La Raza studies at TUSD. Over the years I began noticing an 'open' resentfulness by the Hispanic students. I clearly have been accused by Hispanic students of 'not liking Mexicans'."

Hector Ayala, a teacher at Cholla High Magnet School, "reports that the director of Raza Studies accused him of being the 'white man’s agent,' and that when this director was a teacher, he taught a separatist political agenda, and his students told Hector that they were taught in Raza Studies to 'not fall for the white man’s traps.'" Horne wrote.

Horne cited a number of texts used in the program, calling it "racist propaganda are fed to young and impressionable students, who swallow them whole, as illustrated by the rude behavior of some students during an address by Margaret Garcia Dugan and subsequent demonstrations. The education they are receiving, to deal with disagreements in an uncivil manner, will be dysfunctional for them as adults."

The political and the personal

Horne's push to the the Mexican-American studies program began after a 2006 incident at Tucson Magnet High School.

His deputy, Margaret (Garcia) Dugan, was sent to speak to students after labor activist Dolores Huerta told a school assembly that "Republicans hate Latinos." Some students stood silently, with tape over their mouths, during Dugan's speech.

Although both Horne and Dugan (who lost the GOP schools chief primary) have said their opposition to TUSD's ethnic studies program isn't personal, both have been vague as to the specifics they find problematic.

Despite repeated questions to both at a press conference in May, neither pointed to any part of the curriculum that violated the law.

At that press conference, while students from ethnic studies classes protested outside, Horne used a photograph from the Los Angeles Times of a student in "Brown Beret" clothing as evidence that "La Raza studies conveys a revolutionary message, a separatist message, a message that makes students hostile to the United States."

Horne has refused repeated invitations to attend TUSD's ethnic studies classes, and declined to meet with students that day.

Desegregation plan at risk?

The district's ethnic studies programs are a key part of a plan that lifted a three-decade old court order aimed at desegregating TUSD. The district is 75 percent minority, and 60 percent of its students are Hispanic.

Ending Mexican-American studies, which has a smaller budget than African-American studies, could put that plan in jeopardy. "It's a significant risk," said Pedicone. "It could be devastating."

From 1978 until the end of 2009, TUSD was under a court order to increase opportunities for minority students, and to decrease the number of minority-majority schools.  The district agreed to expand its ethnic studies programs in 2009 as a condition of ending the desegregation order.

Not following the Post-Unitary Plan could bring the district back under court supervision.

"The plan calls for us to address specific mandates," Pedicone said.

The program's goal of "increased academic achievement for Latino students" is enough to violate the law, Horne wrote. "The district's official description on its website leaves no room for doubt that the Mexican-American studies program is 'designed primarily' for Hispanic students," he wrote.

TUSD also has programs in Pan-Asian and Native American studies.

Lawsuit pending

Sean Arce, the director of the Mexican-American studies program, and nine other teachers filed a federal lawsuit in October alleging that HB 2281 violates their freedom of speech. A judge has yet to rule on the case.

Disclosure: Dylan Smith’s wife is a teacher in the Tucson Unified School District.


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