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Tucson's ethnic-studies program violates Arizona law, judge rules

The ruling affirms a decision by the state schools superintendent and could end classes on Mexican American heritage.

December 27, 2011|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • Faculty and students take part in a May protest against a law that would ban Mexican American studies and other ethnic study programs at Tucson Unified School District schools.
Faculty and students take part in a May protest against a law that would ban… (James S. Wood / For The Times )

Tucson's Mexican American studies program violates state law, an Arizona administrative law judge ruled Tuesday, paving the way for the program's possible demise.

Judge Lewis D. Kowal affirmed a prior decision by the state's schools chief that the Tucson Unified School District's program violates a new law prohibiting divisive ethnic-studies classes.

John Huppenthal, the state superintendent of public instruction, had deemed the program in violation in June. Among other things, the law bans classes primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people."

The school district appealed Huppenthal's ruling, and testimony before the administrative law judge concluded in October.

Kowal's decision is merely a recommendation to Huppenthal, who can take action against the program if it does not come into compliance with the law. Any such action is likely to be challenged in court.

In a statement, Huppenthal said he was pleased with the judge's decision and plans to issue his final decision soon.

"I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation — a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District," he said. "The judge's decision confirms that it was the right decision."

Program proponents say the classes push Latino students to excel and teach a long-neglected slice of America's cultural heritage: Chicano perspectives on literature, history and social justice.

The program's opponents — led by Huppenthal, a veteran state senator elected superintendent of public instruction last year — say that by framing historical events in racial terms, the teachers promote groupthink and victimhood.

A pending case in federal court contends the state law is unconstitutional. Eleven teachers and two students have requested an injunction to halt its implementation.

A federal judge in Tucson heard arguments on the injunction last month but will soon rule on Huppenthal's motion to dismiss the case. If he does dismiss it, the request for an injunction would be moot.

School district officials could not be reached for comment. But Richard M. Martinez, an attorney representing the teachers participating in the federal lawsuit, said Kowal's ruling was not surprising.

"It confirms what we already knew the state of Arizona wants to do, which is shut down Mexican American studies," he said. "That's why we're in federal court."

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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