Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Law Banning Ethnic-Studies in Arizona Goes into Effect

New Year’s Day marked the beginning of yet another battle that puts the state of Arizona at the center of controversy against the Latino community.

January 1 is the date that House Bill 2281 went into effect making ethnic studies illegal in the state.  According to the new law, classes in kindergarten through 12th grade that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of one ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity” are banned.

Republican Tom Horn, who is to be sworn in soon as the state’s new attorney general, had been pushing for the legislation for three years when he was the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Specifically, he targeted the ethnic-studies curriculum in the Tucson Unified School District.

Horne says he sought the program’s demise because it divides students by race.

“A fundamental role of the public schools is to take students of different backgrounds and teach them to treat each other as individuals and not of the race they were born into. Tucson Unified District does it the opposite,” Horne said. “They divide (students) by race and teach each group about its own background only.”

Critics say the ban violates freedom of speech.  Sean Arce, the Mexican-American Studies Director, along with nine other teachers within the department, have banned together to fight the law which they call unconstitutional.   In October, the group filed a federal lawsuit.

The new superintendent of the Tucson district, John Huppenthal, cites statistics that show that students who go through the ethnic studies program far outpace their counterparts in going on to college: 70 – 75 percent compared to 20 to 25 percent of students who do not enroll in these courses.

The district has vowed to continue with the classes despite the potential for losing much needed funding. If any school districts violate the law they could be punished by seeing their state budgets slashed by 10 percent by the Arizona Department of Education.

In actions reminiscent of its predecessor, SB 1070, HB 2281 is mobilizing Latino and civil rights activists. On Monday, the group, Save Ethnic Studies, will hold a press conference to respond to an answer that Horne filed on December 31 to the pending lawsuit.  He “finds” that the “Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American studies program in non-compliance of HB 2281.

Advocates argue that this is not within his jurisdiction since it is now the role of the new state superintendent to make his own determination on the program.

“How do you declare a program in violation when you haven’t observed a program in its current state?” incoming TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, said

The judge has yet to rule on the request for an injunction.