Judge Rejects Challenge to AZ Law Prohibiting Ethnic Studies

A federal judge has ruled that the Arizona law banning implementation of an ethnic studies program is constitutional, The Arizona Republic reports. The lawmakers who supported the bill have expressed relief at the decision, saying that putting the program in place would have introduced an element of racial divisiveness into the state’s public schools.

Tom Horne, the state’s Attorney General who both helped draft the measure and argued for it in court, said that allowing the program to be taught would have introduced a “radical political element” into classrooms, and would have encouraged kids to see race before they saw individuals.

The challenge to the new state law was initially launched in 2010 by teachers of the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American studies program, which offered a slate of history, government and literature classes at four high schools. They had claimed the law infringed the constitutional rights of Hispanic teachers and students to free speech and equal protection.

The program was discontinued by the Tucson Unified School District’s governing board in January 2012 after an administrative law judge determined that the program presented material in a “biased, political and emotionally charged manner.”

Supporters of the program said that it put people of various ethnic and racial background in touch with their roots and focused on the role that they have played in the history of the country. The lawsuit was in danger of ending before it even started when the group that originally brought it – a group of Tuscon teachers – were found to be lacking standing. A former student of the program took over as the plaintiff on their behalf.

Although Judge A. Wallace Tashima said that the law didn’t meet the bar for unconstitutionality, he did say that the wording was vague and said that the court retained jurisdiction on any lawsuits that derived from the measure in the future.

The state law, which took effect in January 2011, prohibits Arizona school districts and charter schools from offering classes that promote overthrowing the U.S. government, promote resentment for a certain race or class of people, are geared for students of a particular ethnic background, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of recognizing students as individuals.

TUSD was not a party to the case, but spokeswoman Cara Rene said Monday that the ruling allows the district to move forward with curriculum requirements of a recently finalized desegregation plan. The plan was the outgrowth of a 40-year-old case in which several families had accused the district of discrimination.