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Final judgement on TUSD's MAS program. What's next?

Posted at 6:30 PM, Dec 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-28 20:30:01-05

A 7-year legal battle over the controversial Mexican American Studies program created by TUSD is over.  A federal judge issued a final ruling yesterday. 

It permanently prohibits the state from restricting ethnic studies programs in the district. The judge declared the Arizona law § 15-112 that dismantled the MAS program was unconstitutional because it was motivated by racial discrimination though the attorneys for the state denied it played any part. 

The ruling states the state superintendent and Arizona State Board of Education cannot require TUSD to prepare or file any reports regarding whether any course is in compliance with § 15-112, conduct any inspections or audits of any course, and threaten to withhold state funds for failure to comply with § 15-112.

KGUN9 reached out to board members for a response as well as one of the current master teachers of the Culturally Relevant courses that have replaced the MAS program.

Yolanda Sotelo taught literature in the Mexican American Studies program. She's elated the federal court case is over. "The ruling validates the fact that we weren't doing anything wrong," she said.

Sotelo helped revised the program into what's being taught today -- Culturally Relevant Courses. She says she doesn't expect any sweeping changes. "Most of the pieces that were banned. They were brought back. A lot of the literature, the history, that we taught as MAS teachers have been brought back," she said.

Sotelo says she expects only a few additions or adjustments to the CR courses. "I would say satisfied that what we created in the CR classes is good curriculum." Sotelo says it's unclear whether the social justice courses will return.

But the TUSD board will determine what changes might be made as a result of the ruling. Mark Stegeman responded to our request -- stating -- he'll "consider revisions on their merits, just as for any other curricular change. There have been few complaints about the current CRC curriculum and it's not clear that any changes are warranted."

Kristel Foster told KGUN9 that she's already asked to bring back an action item she and Adelita Grijalva placed on the agenda months ago after the federal judge's initial ruling. Foster stated, "I hope we can have a unified vote to acknowledge the ruling and officially state that there is nothing hindering our current CR classes, or any classes, from incorporating the successful pedagogy of the former MAS program." Foster says she's looking forward to a public discussion and vote at the January 16th board meeting.

Board president Michael Hicks wrote -- 

"TUSD provides a culturally relevant, literacy based approach to language arts, math, reading, writing, science and social studies at all grade levels.  The curricula is align with the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards (AZCCRS) and prepare students for level grade level appropriate assessments. I as the rest board (at board meeting) have heard from many teachers and students who feel that these (CR) classes provide a well rounded learning structure and environment for all students.

Although two board members have expressed their desire to re-instate the prior teaching methods of "Mexican American Studies" (MAS) back into Tucson Unified School District, I feel that if the MAS classes were to be reintroduced, this would cause much confusion with the student body and would take away from the current court mandated CR classes."

There's one last legal item to still work through -- the plaintiff's attorney fees. The judge ruled the state has to pick up the costs -- which considering it's a 7 year trial -- could reach into the millions.