Education Department Considers Probe of Ethnic-Studies Issue

Emily Gersema, AZ Central, January 27, 2012

U.S. Department of Education officials are considering a request by the 21 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to investigate allegations of civil-rights violations by Arizona’s enforcement of a new law barring racially-divisive classes.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat who is a caucus member, said he had spoken Friday with the caucus chairman, U.S. Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, D-Texas, and officials from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights about the Tucson Unified School District’s recent decision to end its Mexican-American studies program.

Earlier this week, the caucus sent a letter to the office demanding an investigation for alleged civil-rights violations. The caucus argues that the program’s elimination is a violation of students’ constitutional and First Amendment rights.

Federal officials “advised us that they’re evaluating it,” Grijalva said Friday. “Now that it (the program’s elimination) has been implemented, they have cause to evaluate it.”

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The school board’s decision earlier this month stopped Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools John Huppenthal from cutting millions of dollars from the district’s budget as a penalty for alleged violations of the state ethnic-studies law that he wrote with help from his predecessor, now-Attorney General Tom Horne.

Huppenthal had declared the program illegal under the law, which bans classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, encourage resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed solely for students of a certain ethnicity, and that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of students as individuals.

The board’s decision and Huppenthal’s allegations have angered many of the 700 students who were enrolled in the now-dismantled classes, and have prompted a series of student-led marches and protests this month.

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