Tucson Continues Ethnic Studies Classes Despite New State Ban

The school district defies state law and stands to lose millions.

By Julianne Hing Jan 03, 2011

In his final act as Arizona state school superintendent, Tom Horne called a news conference Monday morning to announce that the Tucson Unified School District is operating in violation of HB 2291, the bill he helped pass that banned ethnic studies programs across the state.

"They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them," Horne said, Arizona’s KTAR reported. He found Tucson’s ethnic studies program in violation of all four provisions of HB 2281 which forbid classes that are "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group"; teach political views that encourage "overthrow of the U.S. government" or "promote resentment toward a race or class of people" and advocate "ethnic solidarity."

Under the law, Tucson stands to lose 10 percent of its state education funds, which amounts to nearly $15 million, according to the Arizona Republic. Horne’s law gave the superintendent unilateral power to rule, and withhold, money. Last year Horne said ethnic studies classes teach students of color "ethnic chauvinism."

The TUSD has 60 days to halt the classes or appeal Horne’s finding. The Arizona Republic reports that the TUSD plans to appeal. A coalition of educators filed a lawsuit against the bill in October. The Tucson Unified School District continues to back the ethnic studies program and say that their classes do comply with the new law.

It was a busy day for Horne. Just after Horne finished up his press conference he rushed off to get sworn in as the state’s new attorney general. He has promised in his new role to defend SB 1070, the state’s new anti-immigrant law that, among other things, makes it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona.

The final decision on Horne’s Monday finding is in the hands of incoming state schools superintendent John Huppenthal, who is no ethnic studies supporter himself, but said before winning office in November that he would investigate the matter before deciding on it.

"No school district has a right to provide incorrect, unfactual American history that pits a class against another," Huppenthal said at the time, Tucson’s KGUN9 reported. "It’s unhealthy and if that’s what going on there’s going to be a confrontation."