By Merrill Eisenberg
SfAA President and SfAA Policy Committee
Arizona’s infamous ethnic studies law, adopted in 2010, prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
- Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
- Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
- Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
- Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Arizona’s Superintendent of Education, Tom Horne, was the architect of the bill. It was adopted to target the Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) Mexican American Studies Program as a result of an incident that occurred in 2006. Dolores Huerta, a well-known Hispanic civil rights activist, was a guest speaker in a TUSD school and said “Republicans hate Hispanics.” Huerta has said that she meant her comment as an expression of her personal views, not those of the school district.
In October 2010 TUSD students and teachers filed a federal lawsuit, Acosta v Horne ( http://saveethnicstudies.org/assets/docs/litigation/Complaint_CD_No.1_10-18-2010.pdf), to challenge the constitutionality of the law. That November, Horne was elected as Arizona’s Attorney General and John Huppenthal took his place as Superintendent of Education. As Attorney General, Horne has represented the State’s interest in the Federal lawsuit, while Huppenthal has continued Horne’s assault on the program. Huppenthal engaged The Cambium Learning Group, Inc. to conduct an audit to determine if the TUSD program violates the law. The TUSD Program was the only ethnic studies program in the state that has been audited for compliance with the law.
The May 2011 audit report (http://www.scribd.com/doc/58025928/TUSD-ethnic-studies-audit)
found that (1) the program …” is designed to improve student achievement based on the audit team’s findings of valuable unit and lesson design, engaging instructional practices, and collective inquiry strategies through values of diversity and intercultural proficiency, although a more comprehensive curriculum framework is needed; (2) the program facilitates student achievement; and #(3) no observable evidence was present to suggest that Arizona Revised Statutes 15-112(A) is in violation of the law within any observed classroom in the Tucson Unified School District. Nevertheless, on June 15, 2011, Huppenthal, found the program to be out of compliance with the law. TUSD appealed the decision and in August 2011 an administrative judge found that the Superintendent did have the authority to do so. (http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/documents/doc/122711_tusd_mas_doc/)
On March 8, 2012, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS), SfAA, and 25 other education and civil rights organizations (listed below) filed an Amicus Curiae (“Friend of the Court”) (http://www.vincerabagolaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/MAS-BRIEF-FILED.pdf)brief in support of the plaintiffs in the federal case, which is now Acosta v Huppenthal. The brief argues that:
- The law is an unconstitutional targeting of Mexican American students and teachers, violating the 1st and 14th amendments and resulting in discriminatory treatment and improper viewpoint censorship based on suspect classifications.
- Chicana/o Studies is an integral part of American education and their field has established global academic importance and respect.
- It is in everyone’s best interest to reduce racial isolation, and provide a diverse curriculum.
United States Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima found that “…permitting NACCS to file such a brief is likely to assist in this case, which is of general public interest” and accepted the brief. Motions to dismiss the case have also been filed by proponents of the law. In the coming months we will learn if these motions to dismiss are accepted. If so, the case will end, but if not, the case will be heard in Federal court and our brief will be considered.
Other organizations that have joined us in the Amicus Curiae include:
Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS); Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU); the
National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project; Mexican American Studies Department of San Jose State University; Chicano Studies Department of California State University-Northridge; League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a national 501(c)(3) organization; Association of Raza Educators (ARE); Aztlán Libre Press; California Faculty Association (CFA); Coalición México- Americana (MXAC); Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (EPJC); For Chicana/Chicano Studies Foundation (FCCSF); Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR); Indigenous Women’s Network/Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change; Latino Education and Advocacy Days (LEAD Organization); Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS); Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social – Tejas (MALCS-Tejas); American Studies Association (ASA); South Central Farmers (SCF);
SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP); Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE); Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (Texas LULAC); Acequia Institute (TAI);Unitarian Universalist Association – Pacific Southwest District.