Ethnic Studies: Huppenthal and the Art of Arizona Politics

When it comes to the ongoing ethnic studies story in Arizona, it’s difficult to figure out where to start first.

Last week, the Tucson Weekly ran a story on Tucson Police Department Chief Roberto Villaseñor responding to criticism of the police presence at the May 3 TUSD governing board meeting.

It wasn't until an active member of the community publicly explained what took place that night—including how police hit her and others who were protesting peacefully—that Villaseñor offered an apology.

This week, it’s all about Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s Wednesday, June 15. press conference that in the end may be considered just another fine example of the art of Arizona politics.

Huppenthal released his determination that TUSD is out of compliance with the state’s anti-ethnic studies law based on findings from the independent audit the state paid more than $170,000 for a Florida-based company to complete — a company picked by Huppenthal. A decision from Huppenthal has been expected for weeks, with some of the public thinking the hold up was coming from Cambium Learning, the company that audited the Mexican-American Studies department — the only ethnic studies program audited in TUSD.

After Huppenthal’s press conference, it felt as if a trick was played. The superintendent suggested his decision was based on findings in the audit, and he released the "findings of his investigation" in a three page document. Reporters and TV folks left thinking Cambium sided with Huppenthal — that indeed, those TUSD teachers are Marxists readying students to take over the U.S., and if any of them are of Mexican heritage, they are being taught they’re better then everyone else and victims at the same time.

But those who sat down and finally read the 120-page audit learned Cambium thinks the classes are great, that the teachers are great, and that they aren’t breaking the anti-ethnic studies law. It probably wasn’t what Huppenthal was hoping for, which probably explains why he sat on the audit for several weeks, since the audit is dated May 2.

In Huppenthal’s press release, he further infers the audit agreed with his findings discussed at the press conference. Before going further, let’s go over the anti-ethnic studies law:

A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its Program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1. Promote overthrowing the U.S. government;
2. Promote resentment towards a race or class of people;
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race; and
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

Although Huppenthal forgets to accuse anyone of working to overthrow the U.S. government, he goes right into “promote resentment towards a race or class of people” based on materials gathered by the Arizona Department of Education and the auditors. As for the other points of the law ... that the classes “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race”? Yep, materials and website content make him certain this is true. Regarding if the classes “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals,” of course Huppenthal determined that program materials do just that.

Now according to Huppenthal's decision, TUSD has 60 days to bring Mexican-American studies into compliance; if not the state will withhold “10% of the monthly apportionment of state aid to Tucson Unified School District until such time as they come into compliance.”

But what about that audit?

Read more after the jump.