© 2023 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Judge Says Mexican-American Studies Program Violates Ariz. Law

Carlos Galindo protests in support of Tucson's ethnic studies program in May.
Matt York
Carlos Galindo protests in support of Tucson's ethnic studies program in May.

An Arizona administrative law judge has sided with the Tucson school chief, saying the district's Mexican American Studies program runs afoul state law.

If you remember, the law in question was passed in May of 2010 amid controversy over the state's immigration law. House Bill 2281 was specifically aimed at the course taught by the high schools in the Tucson Unified School District. Now, as The Los Angeles Times puts it, Tuesday's ruling puts the Mexican American Studies program in jeopardy.

The paper explains:

"The decision by the judge, Lewis D. Kowal, is merely a recommendation to [John Huppenthal, the state superintendent of public instruction], who can now take action against the program if it does not come into compliance with the law.

"Should the program not come into compliance — as Huppenthal sees it — the district could lose about $15 million in state aid.

"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.

"Opponents of the program — 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."

Judge Kowal issued a 37-page ruling in which he said he was not considering the effectiveness of the classes but he found the program, "has classes or courses designed for Latinos as a group that promotes racial resentment against 'Whites,' and advocates ethnic solidarity of Latinos."

Kowal continues:

"The Administrative Law Judge concludes that A.R.S. § 15-112(F) permits the historical (objective) instruction of oppression that may, as a natural but unintended consequence, result in racial resentment or ethnic solidarity. However, teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner, which is what occurred in MAS classes. Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity, instead of treating pupils as individuals."

The Arizona Daily Star reports the ball is now in Huppenthal's court, but he has said he will likely maintain his opinion that the program must be dismantled. The Tucson district can either come in compliance, appeal or risk losing state aid, which the board's president told the paper is "something we cannot weather."

This is also not the last you'll hear of this, because two students and 11 teachers have filed federal lawsuit claiming the law banning the program is unconstitutional. According to Court House News Service, the plaintiffs claim Huppenthal is "playing race politics."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.