LATINO VOICES
04/29/2013 02:49 pm ET

Tucson Floats Culturally Relevant Courses Intended To Replace Mexican American Studies

Tucson Unified School District is inching toward unveiling a replacement for the controversial Mexican American Studies program the district shut down two years ago.

TUSD plans to test out a new “culturally relevant course” at three of the district’s high schools next year, The Arizona Daily Star reports.

There’s no curriculum for the courses yet and the Governing Board hasn't approved them, so it’s not possible to compare the class to the Mexican American Studies courses prohibited by the Arizona legislature.

But the new courses don’t seem very similar to the old ones. Rather than focusing on Mexican American history, literature and culture, the new course teaches students how to respect each other’s cultures, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

The class, “Ninth Grade Culture, Identity and Transformation: A Culturally Relevant Viewpoint,” will be offered at the three high schools of Rincon, Sahuaro and Santa Rita next year, if the TUSD Governing Board approves them, the Arizona Daily Star reports. The Board will hear the course proposals in May.

A federal judge ordered TUSD in February to offer culturally relevant courses next year, as required under a unitary plan adopted by the district as part of a decades-long desegregation case.

Some had hoped the vaguely defined courses would mark the return of Mexican American Studies.

Arizona’s former Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne, who now serves as the state’s attorney general, led the effort to ban Tucson’s controversial Mexican American Studies curriculum, alleging that the courses politicized the students and led them to resent white people. The state legislature passed a law in 2010 targeting the Tucson program that banned courses that teach the overthrow of the government, promote racial resentment or treat students as part of an ethnic group rather than as individuals.

Teachers and advocates disputed Horne’s claims, pointing to independent evaluations of the courses that found they helped engage students, raise achievement, and foster critical thinking.

Facing the loss of 10 percent of its funding for noncompliance with the new law -- some $14 million over the fiscal year -- TUSD’s Governing Board voted 4 to 1 in December 2011 to eliminate its Mexican American Studies curriculum.

A lawsuit challenging the ethnic studies law is currently coursing its way through the courts. A federal court largely upheld the ethnic studies law in March, though Judge Wallace Tashima ruled that the section prohibiting courses tailored to serve students of a particular ethnicity was unconstitutional.

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