D-day for TUSD's ethnic studies program less than a month away
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It won't be long before one of the most contentious issues in local education and politics comes to a head. In less than a month, TUSD's Mexican American Studies program could be ruled illegal.
A new law takes effect at the end of December. It forbids teaching anything racially divisive, and even mentions the idea that programs could advocate overthrowing the government. The law, pushed through the Legislature by State School Superintendent Tom Horne, was made to order to target TUSD's Mexican American Studies program. Horne believes the program promotes racial division. If TUSD is found in violation of the new law, it could be out millions of dollars in state funding.
Elementary school students were at the University of Arizona Thursday as part of a three-day conference on ethnic studies. The students read statements asking State Superintendent Tom Horne why he pushed through a law they worry could kill TUSD's program.
Maria Hopkins, an Ochoa Elementary 5th grader, said the program helped her a being one-quarter Aztec.
"He should come to our classes and see how it is, and that we're not being terrorists or anything like that," Hopkins said.
An organization called Tucsonans United for a Sound District is calling for an independent review of TUSD's program to make sure it won't conflict with the law and prompt the state to pull millions of dollars in funds. University of Arizona Professor, Roberto Rodriguez, contended the organization is just one man who doesn't even live in the district.
"This guy has no standing," Rodriguez said. "What we have to deal with is the official body. The official body, that is, TUSD, they issued a statement, the date it was signed, saying it was totally in compliance and TUSD is totally in support."
Before that call, current board member Mark Stegeman was already calling for a review to make sure the program doesn't clash with the law and jeopardize critical funding. Incoming board member Michael Hicks called for a review during his campaign and continues his call now.
"My goal is not to get rid of any of the ethnic studies," Hicks said. "I think ethnic studies is a good thing for us, but some of the curriculum that is taught in some of the ethnic studies, I think, might be in question."
Hicks said some passages in the text books might be construed as promoting hatred. He said he has not concluded they do, but that's the sort of thing he wants to examine to avoid colliding with the new law.
As for Tucsonans United for a Sound District, the organization proposing the study, spokesman Rich Kronberg conceded he does live in Oro Valley but said the organization has many members in TUSD's area, and that any Arizona taxpayer has standing to look at a district that gets state dollars.
Additionally, there is a lawsuit that could stop the law from taking effect. The suit claims the law is discriminatory and violates free speech.
Teachers are looking cautiously at the incoming law. KGUN9 News talked to one teacher who said if courts do not restrain the law, he'll be careful to be sure he has advice from his principal and even a lawyer on what he can teach.
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