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AZ School District Suspends Controversial Mexican-American Studies Program

"Cowards! You are cowards!"

Protesters gather at Tucson Unified School District headquarters to protest the elimination of the district's Mexican-American studies program. (Image source: Arizona Daily Star)

Ariz studies

The Tucson Unified School District voted late Tuesday to end its controversial Mexican-American studies program, after part of its state funding was set to be cut off on the grounds that the curriculum violated state law.

The school district voted 4-1 to dismantle the program, meaning classes will be suspended immediately, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said Friday he was cutting the district's state funding by 10 percent until it came into compliance, amounting to more than $1 million per month and leaving the district facing an immediate $4.9 million shortfall.

The state had long been at odds with the Tucson district over the program, with state officials contending that the classes promote reverse racism. An Arizona law passed last year -- which directly targeted Tucson's program -- bans classes designed for a particular ethnic group or which "promote resentment toward a race of class of people."

The district appealed Huppenthal's original conclusion that the program violated state law, but an administrative law judge in December upheld his decision, clearing the way for funding cuts. The board opted not to pursue the matter further, citing prohibitive legal costs.

According to the Daily Star, all district board members who voted to suspend the program support revamping either the program or individual classes to make them more comprehensive and include the contributions of all ethnicities.

“Our chances of winning a legal case are slim,” board president Mark Stegeman said before the vote, the Tucson Citizen reported. “I think we should go back and make something that supports statute and that supports board policy.”

But not everyone at Tuesday's meeting felt that way: As the vote outcome became clear, one member of the audience reportedly shouted, "Cowards! You are cowards!"

Board member Adelita Grijalva, the sole dissenting vote, called for the district to continue to defend the program and to challenge the law's constitutionality.

"This is an issue that is not going to go away by this vote. When bad laws are written, they are usually picked up by other states. This is an opportunity to fight a bad law," she said.

Salomon Baldenegro, a Latino community leader, also implored the board to fight harder to appeal, according to the Citizen.

Baldenegro said Arizona's strict anti-illegal immigration law had already criminalized race, adding, “Now they are criminalizing our history.”

One last thing…
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