The Arizona Department of Education gave the Tucson Unified School District an ultimatum: Eliminate all ethnic studies courses or face massive financial sanctions.
The district was found out of compliance by the state of Arizona according to HB 2281, which orders districts in the state to stop teaching courses that promote ethnic solidarity. The district’s Mexican-American studies courses came under fire in early January 2012 after a review by the department of education. In a swift decision made days after the state ruled their program was out of compliance, the TUSD school board voted to eliminate all Mexican-American studies classes and associated books on Jan. 10.
“The approved motion required that district staff revise the core social studies curriculum to increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture and to provide a balanced view of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues,” said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone in a letter to parents in the district on Jan. 12. “It is important to know that this decision was difficult and not without consequences.”
This is the not the first time TUSD’s program has come under fire. The district’s Mexican-American studies program was first ruled in violation of the law last June by Arizona’s state superintendent, John Huppenthal. The district appealed this ruling, although it was overturned by a state judge. This past January was the second time the district was found failing to comply, which is why the state has threatened financial sanctions.
“It’s discriminatory and anticonstitutional,” says Norma Gonzalez, a former Mexican-American Studies teacher with TUSD and the founder of a campaign against the law through Change.org. Gonzalez says these courses are what engaged the Hispanic students, who make up roughly 60 percent of the 60,000 students in the district.
Since the decision in January, many teachers have been left in the dark about how they will go forward. “For lack of a better term, I’m in limbo right now,” said Gonzalez on Jan. 31, nearly three weeks after the decision. “The district has not come forward yet and said what I or my colleagues are allowed to do. The only thing that is definitive is what we’re not allowed to teach.” Gonzalez’s petition to make banned Hispanic books available, and not be stored in an off-site storage facility, garnered nearly 15,000 signatures within one week of its launch on Jan. 24. To view the petition, visit www.change.org.