The Fight Continues

Ethnic Studies lawsuit is amended to include TUSD as a defendant

The 11 ethnic-studies teachers figured they'd ask one more time if the Tucson Unified School District would reconsider fighting HB 2281 with them and join the teachers in their lawsuit against the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Board of Education.

Now, Richard Martinez, the attorney for the 11 teachers, is getting ready to add the school district to the lawsuit, but not as fellow plaintiffs, as defendants.

The teachers asked the board to join them in a letter they presented to TUSD on Jan. 11.

The governing board "didn't reply to the teachers. The way the teachers found out their answer was from a story in the Arizona Daily Star," Deyanira Nevarez says.

Nevarez is program director for Save Ethnic Studies, the group formed to help support the teachers' lawsuit filed on Oct. 18, 2010, to challenge the constitutionality of what is now a state law that prohibits ethnic-studies classes in schools across the state. Although the law was championed by former superintendent and current state Attorney General Tom Horne, it was specifically written with TUSD in mind.

On Dec. 30, the TUSD governing board passed a resolution that TUSD intended to follow the new state law although members Adelita Grijalva and Judy Burns and new TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone have all said the board would fight the ethnic studies law if forced to do so.

While Pedicone told the Tucson Weekly that the resolution was part of a process to show that the school district has done nothing wrong and feels it is in compliance with the law, Nevarez says the 11 teachers feel just the opposite. "We feel that the resolution legitimizes a completely unconstitutional law," she says.

Including TUSD as a defendant in the lawsuit ended up being the only way the teachers and their attorney felt they could get the district involved. "The teachers feel it is really important that TUSD have a seat at the table. They've been supportive for many years. They need to be at the table—the way to get them at the table is to add them as defendants."

Pedicone says the district is aware Martinez is adding TUSD to the lawsuit, although the district's legal department hasn't received any formal documentation.

"Our logic is that what we are doing is proceeding with the process. By law we have 60 days, and now we have a 45-day extension. We feel the district has taken a position all along that we are not out of compliance," Pedicone says. "We believe it is beneficial to students and the academic achievement of Hispanic students."

Pedicone says he has faith that Huppenthal will do the right thing and look at the data that show how ethnic studies benefits TUSD students. Huppenthal critics often note the former state senator campaigned against "Raza" studies when he ran for superintendent.

Criticism from ethnic-studies supporters frustrates Pedicone, who says it's impossible to come up with a rational solution or for people to understand that the district is doing the right thing when the topic is so polarizing.

However, what Pedicone calls polarizing is also uniting. On Saturday, Feb. 6, almost 300 supporters filled a meeting space at El Pueblo Senior Center on Irvington Road. Ethnic-studies alumni spoke, along with parents and those involved in program, like Augustíne Romero, who helped create the TUSD Mexican-American studies department and curriculum. Also in the room were local politicians, including Tucson City Council members Karin Uhlich, Richard Fimbres, Paul Cunningham and Regina Romero; Pima County Supervisors Richard Eliás and Ramón Valadez; and U.S. Congressman Raúl Grijalva.

"It is an adverse law directed at a group of people," Grijalva told the crowd.

"I would suggest that ... all of us as a community should be very frightened by this law" because it could create a precedent to single out another group of people. "Certain people in Arizona are using the law for political gain, while the reality is the subjects taught in the ethnic-studies classes are American."

Romero came to the meeting with data—data he says Horne asked for when he was superintendent. When it was provided, Horne changed his tune and said his fight against ethnic studies was a moral issue, not about student success.

According to research from UCLA, Romero says out of 100 Mexican-American students who begin school, 56 will drop out of high school. Out of the remaining 44 percent, 22 will go to college and only six will graduate, and less than one percent will go on to get a doctorate.

The data on TUSD collected by Romero suggests students in his ethnic-studies classes are defying the UCLA research and not all students enrolled are Mexican-American. From 2005 to 2010, students in ethnic studies scored higher on AIMS then all of their peers. Data also show drastic improvements in reading, writing and math. Out of all ethnic studies students, 97 percent graduate and 71 percent go on to college.

"We're outperforming," Romero says. "We haven't closed the gap, we've inverted it."