The Arizona Department of Education is raising objections to a delayed, court-ordered multicultural course offering in Tucson public schools, where a controversial Mexican American Studies curriculum was outlawed by the state legislature two years ago.
Tucson’s Unified School District’s (TUSD) governing board voted 3 to 2 last week to approve a multicultural literature class. But Arizona officials say they’re concerned the law might not meet state education standards and may violate Arizona’s 2010 ethnic studies law, the Arizona Daily Star Reports.
A memo sent to TUSD on June 10 warned the district to avoid violating the state law used to shut down the city's Mexican American Studies curriculum, written onto the books as A.R.S. §15-112.
While ADE (Arizona Department of Education) is supportive of TUSD’s efforts to develop curriculum that serves the needs of its students, the department must also be mindful of any potential violation of A.R.S. §15-112, particularly subsection (A), paragraph (4), which expressly prohibits courses that “Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Strict adherence to a policy that ties each lesson in the proposed curriculum to the state’s academic standards, combined with a thorough and transparent curriculum review process, will minimize any potential for future issues.
The Arizona Education Department also referred multiple times to the ethnic studies law in its recommendations for revisions to the multicultural course plan, which urges TUSD to:
Ensure multicultural courses meet the requirements of A.R.S. §15-112 and the Unitary Status Plan by developing courses of study that provide a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues along with creating a positive and inclusive climate that encourages respect and understanding among students from diverse backgrounds.
TUSD spokesperon Cara Rene told the Arizona Daily Star that the district has made a “good faith effort” to get feedback from state officials.
“It is not premature,” Rene told the paper. “TUSD is under federal court order and mandated timeline to create classes with this specialized curriculum and we are moving forward to meet that order.”
TUSD has sent revised proposals for multicultural classes in history and government to the state for review.
The Arizona legislature passed a law in 2010 aimed at shutting down a controversial Mexican American Studies curriculum that conservative legislators accused of politicizing Latino students.
The program’s teachers and supporters deny the allegations and point to independent studies showing the classes improved student achievement. A federal judge largely upheld the law in March in a lawsuit brought by former Mexican American Studies student Nicolas Dominguez and his mother Margarita Dominguez, but the decision was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Curtis Acosta and Sean Arce, two of the banned program’s developers, have teamed up with Prescott College to offer an independent, after-school course based on the curriculum. Students who participate will earn college credit for their work.
A federal judge ordered Tucson in February to offer culturally relevant courses as part of a separate, decades-long desegregation case.