03/05/2015 12:44 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2015

Arizona Won't Fine Tucson Schools Over Ethnic Studies Courses


Arizona state officials won’t strip Tucson public schools of 10 percent of its funding for alleged infractions against a state law restricting the teaching of ethnic studies.

Tuesday’s announcement by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, a Republican, came after her predecessor cited the teaching of Mexican history, lyrics by the band Rage Against the Machine and an essay by hip hop artist KRS-One

Douglas said the fines weren’t necessary because Tucson Unified School District had cooperated with state requests to monitor the curriculum.

TUSD’s Superintendent H.T. Sanchez spoke favorably of the decision and defended his district’s “culturally relevant curriculum.”

"These classes are not to teach division or hatred but to provide understanding and an excellent education," Tucson’s Superintendent H.T. Sánchez said in a press release Tuesday. "It's important for students to see themselves reflected in literature and history, and if they see themselves reflected in literature and history, they are more apt to take charge of their own learning and their own education in a powerful way."

In January, the outgoing state head of education, John Huppenthal, said the curriculum violated a 2010 ethnic studies law that he had helped pass while serving as a conservative state senator. On his last day in office, Huppenthal set a March 4 deadline for the district to come into compliance with the law.

Huppenthal said the courses illegally promoted ethnic solidarity and the overthrow of the U.S. government by teaching Mexican history, a song by the band Rage Against the Machine and an essay by hip hop artist KRS-One. Huppethal also said it was illegal under the ethnic studies law for students to recite the poem “In Lak’ech” by Chicano playright Luis Valdes.

KRS-One visited the school to give a speech and an impromptu performance following the uproar over the teaching of his essay.

"When you feel great, you see others as great and you add value,” KRS-One told students at Cholla Magnet High School in January. “Lift them up and show other cultures how great your culture is.”

Led by Huppenthal and then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, the conservative-dominated state legislature passed a law in 2010 that prohibited public school courses from teaching the overthrow of the U.S. government, instilling ethnic solidarity or treating students as members of a group rather than individuals. The law aimed to shut down a controversial Mexican-American studies curriculum in Tucson that experts credit with boosting student achievement and improving the graduation rate.

Under pressure from state lawmakers, TUSD eliminated the Mexican-American studies program in January of 2012. A federal court later requested the district to implement the culturally relevant courses to help resolve a decades-old desegregation case against the school district.

A three-judge panel heard a challenge to the law at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January brought by Tucson students who say the law is unconstitutional. The judges have yet to announce a decision in the case.



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