Saturday, June 18, 2011

Papers, Please: ACLU Asks Huppenthal for Documentation

Posted By on Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 1:52 PM

In response to Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal's determination that the Tucson Unified School District is out of compliance regarding the anti-ethnic studies law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona issued a press release on Thursday, June 16, saying that it wants all Department of Education records relating to Huppenthal's investigation for an investigation of its own.

Here's the ACLU release:

PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today filed a records request asking Arizona education officials to produce all records in their possession relating to a review of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Mexican American Studies program. The ACLU’s request comes in the wake of an announcement by Arizona Department of Education Office (ADE) Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that the program violates state law, despite findings by a state-selected auditor to the contrary.

“This law was deliberately written to enable the state superintendent to ban the Mexican American Studies program based on his own personal views and biases,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Daniel Pochoda, who drafted the three-page records request. “By all indications, this is a political determination by Superintendent Huppenthal that is not based on an objective assessment of the program as the thorough review of the state's own contractor clearly reveals.”

A.R.S. § 15-112, which went into effect on December 31, 2010, prohibits schools from teaching subjects that promote “the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” According to a recent review conducted by auditors from Cambium Learning, Inc. and National Academic Educational Partners, “no evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat student[s] as individuals.” Auditors went on to add that "no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law ..." and that the "courses promote a culture of excellence and support a safe and orderly environment conducive to learning.” Huppenthal himself hired these auditors to examine the ethnic studies program.

Despite these findings, Huppenthal made an announcement on June 15th claiming that: “As a result of the investigation and review of the Mexican American Studies Program and its classroom materials and instructional content, I find there is substantial evidence of a clear violation of Arizona Revised Statute Section 15-112 by the Tucson Unified School District.” He is giving the TUSD Governing Board 60 days to “bring the Mexican American Studies Program into compliance with A.R.S. §15-112,” adding that “failure to do so shall result in the withholding of 10% of the monthly apportionment of state aid to Tucson Unified School District.”

The ACLU believes the law is being interpreted to prohibit any classroom discussion related to Mexican American history, except those topics approved by the Superintendent, and thereby chills fundamental speech rights of students and teachers. The TUSD ethnic studies program includes African American, Mexican American, Native American and Pan-Asian studies. While the bill does not specifically cite the Mexican American studies program as one of the prohibited courses, Huppenthal and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, now Arizona Attorney General, have been outspoken critics of the Latino studies program since 2007.

“As is clear from the legislative history of this bill, a small group of public officials led by Tom Horne began a politically and racially discriminatory campaign almost four years ago to destroy a program that dared to break from traditional texts and teach tolerance and multiculturalism,” added Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.

“Huppenthal is ignoring evidence showing how the program has made great strides in improving student achievement and in building students’ confidence, and in doing so is making a mockery of his oath of office, said Meetze. “This kind of censorship is even more offensive because it lets politics and bias dictate what should be discussed in the classroom.”

The ACLU’s comprehensive records request demands access to all of the information used by Huppenthal in making the determination that the TUSD Mexican American Studies Program is out of compliance with state law.

The ACLU has asked for a response by July 5.

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