Sanchez 'confident' TUSD and state can reach agreement on ethnic studies
The superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, H.T. Sanchez, said he is confident that the district and the Arizona Department of Education can work together to find a fix for TUSD's ethnic studies programs after a meeting Wednesday with newly installed state head of public education Diane Douglas.
The 90-minute meeting between Sanchez and Douglas was focused on a notice of noncompliance issued by outgoing state superintendent John Huppenthal, sent out late Friday afternoon on his last full day on the job.
Huppenthal said TUSD was not in compliance with an agreement made between district and the the Arizona Department of Education in 2012.
In a 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.
If the district did not respond to his finding by March 4, Huppenthal wrote, TUSD could lose 10 percent of its state funding.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Utterback Magnet Middle School, Sanchez said the meeting with Douglas was a "stark contrast" to Huppenthal, who lost the job after GOP voters chose Douglas over him during the Republican primary in August.
The ability to meet with Douglas was a big departure to the previous administration, Sanchez said where after a "semester of silence" the district was suddenly hit with Huppenthal's order.
“I feel very good about the opportunities moving forward,” Sanchez said. “That doesn’t mean there will not be challenges. I’m sure there will be. But I feel very confident that we will be able to be able to work these challenges out.”
The district has to thread a needle 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."
To help fulfill the agreement between the state and the district over the state law, the district has invited state officials to visit classrooms as "often as necessary" said Sanchez. "Daily if they want to."
Sanchez said that by Thursday, staff at TUSD would start working to create a schedule for ADOE representatives to visit schools and classrooms to see the ethnic studies curriculum in action, while Douglas and her staff will provide timely feedback on their concerns.
"That is the best thing that could happen to us is have them come in and see what we do," Sanchez said. "Meet our kids, meet our teachers, understand their passion, to understand what they are trying to put forward to the students."
The meeting went well enough that Douglas asked Sanchez to serve on an advisory committee tasked with developing standards surrounding the contributions of Latinos in Arizona and the United States, which will be part of the state's college and career readiness standards, said Sanchez.
Among the course offerings that Huppenthal said violated state law was 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 during an interview Friday, 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.
Sanchez said that Douglas is in a difficult position because of state law.
"I don't feel that the state agency wants to shut down our program, but wants to take a look at how we can work together and address any concerns," Sanchez said.