Posted on May 5, 2011

Tuscon District in Turmoil Over State Ban on Ethnic Studies

Lourdes Medrano, Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2011


Hundreds of people converged Tuesday on the Tucson Unified School District headquarters to hear the governing board discuss possible changes to the district’s Mexican-American history and culture program.

Following a raucous four-hour meeting punctuated by the removal of several people from the boardroom and loud protests from the crowd, the board postponed taking action until after it convenes a public forum on the matter.

The law in question, which took effect Jan. 1 and is known as HB 2281, bans ethnic studies that promote the overthrow of the United States government and resentment toward a race or class of people. Also outlawed are classes designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group and those that advocate ethnic solidarity rather than the treatment of students as individuals.

Tom Horne drafted the law when he was superintendent of Arizona schools. Just before he stepped down from that post to become the state’s attorney general, he found the Tucson district’s classes out of compliance with the law. The district could lose millions of dollars in funding.

The new Arizona schools superintendent, John Huppenthal, is expected to rule on whether the Tucson district’s Mexican American Studies program is in compliance with HB 2281.

In the meantime, the Tucson district has proposed changing the program. Currently, Mexican-American courses can help satisfy the social-studies requirement for graduation (although students don’t have to take the courses to fulfill the requirement). Under the proposal, the Mexican-American classes would not count toward the social-studies requirement and would instead be electives. Six-and-a-half elective credits are needed for graduation.


At the meeting Tuesday, Sean Arce, director of Mexican American Studies, told board members that making the courses elective would essentially kill the program. The move would eliminate student incentive to enroll in the classes, he said


Dozens of police, some in riot gear, surrounded the building where the meeting (which included an overflow crowd) took place. A police helicopter even hovered above. Before the start of another meeting last week, when the matter was originally supposed to be taken up, youths had chained themselves to board members’ chairs. That session was canceled.