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MAS Program Banned: Request To Reinstate Mexican American Studies Program In Tucson Denied

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Back in January hundreds of students walked out to the streets of downtown Tucson to protest against the cancellation of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program at the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).

A request filed last month by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of Latino plaintiffs to reinstate the MAS programs at TUSD has been denied this week.

The MAS at TUSD program was officially suspended on January 10th after Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal ruled that these high school courses were in direct violation with a segment of the Arizona law HB 2281, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010. The segment says a school curriculum in Arizona shall not:

  • 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.

Superintendent Huppenthal threatened to keep $14 million in state funding from TUSD if the MAS program was not terminated, according to the NYTimes.

The federal U.S. District Court judge in Tucson, judge David Bury, who denied the request to reinstate the MAS program, said that the elimination of the courses didn't intentionally segregate students, nor did it tip the racial or ethnic balance of students in any TUSD school.

The ruling by Judge Bury was backed by Special Master Willis Hawley, who was in charge of overseeing the development and implementation of TUSD's plan to bring its schools into racial balance.

In 2009, after operating for more than 30 years under a federal court order to desegregate its schools, TUSD began working under a post-unitary plan approved by Judge Bury himself.

In the plan, the court acknowledged that the district would operate for the advocacy and equal advantage of every child.

As part of the Post Unitary Status Plan, TUSD outlined that it would “use the expertise of the African American and Mexican American Studies Departments in identifying issues and setting objectives” and that the purpose of the MAS program would be “to position the Mexican American Studies Department as an organizational contributor to TUSD’s commitment to greater academic and social equity for Hispanic students.”

Students from Mexican American backgrounds make up over 60 percent of the student body in the school district.

"The injustice pertaining to (Mexican American Studies) seems so very obvious, so painfully tangible -- it is difficult to understand why it is not visible to those who could easily remedy the situation," said Sylvia Campoy a representative for the Latino plaintiffs.

Speaking to Democracy Now, superintendent Huppenthal said, "In no way shape or form are we banning any kinds of books or any kind of view point from the classroom. But we are saying that if all you are teaching these students is one viewpoint, one dimension, we can readily see that it's not an accurate history, its not an education at all, it's not teaching these kids to think or to think critically but its an indoctrination."

But with the cancellation of the program also came the alleged banning of books from the class, which are said to have been removed from the MAS course while the class was in motion.

The alleged prohibition of these books, most from important Latino authors and activists, has given rise to the 'Librotraficante' movement --which translates from Spanish to 'BookTrafficker'. The movement is a caravan said to bring back banned books from Houston, Texas back to Tucson, Arizona.

"What has occurred here is that [Huppenthal] has taken away from our entire community a curriculum that was adopted by our school board, that was developed by our school district, and that had successfully operated for well over 10 years," said Richard Martinez, the attorney representing teachers and students trying to save the Mexican American Studies program according to Democracy Now. "It’s just part of the same kind of tactics that have been employed in Arizona... It is the anti-Latino perspective that exists in this state."

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