Huppenthal backs Horne on TUSD matter

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PHOENIX -- Newly sworn-in Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal is supporting his predecessor's assertion that the Tucson Unified School District is violating a new law that bans certain ethnic studies programs.

"Given the evidence that I have reviewed as of today, I support former Superintendent Tom Horne’s decision that a violation of one or more provisions of A.R.S. § 15-112 (the statute created by passage of HB 2281) has occurred by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD)," Huppenthal said in a statement released Tuesday morning.

At issue is TUSD's Mexican-American studies program.

The law, House Bill 2281, went into effect on Jan. 1, and prohibits classes that promote resentment against a race or class of people, advocate ethnic solidarity or promote the overthrow of the U.S. government. It bans programs that are essentially designed for students who belong to a particular ethnic group.

In his last move as superintendent, Tom Horne held a news conference Monday morning, saying the TUSD classes violate the new law.

The district argues the opposite, saying the program is meant to help Latino students learn how to overcome adversity and make a positive impact on society.

"Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the Board insisted that the program in question was already in compliance," Huppenthal said in Tuesday's statement. "I find the TUSD Governing Board’s insistence on not changing the Mexican American Studies Program as it is currently structured particularly troubling given my own personal experience with TUSD’s recently renamed Mexican American Studies Department. My, firsthand, classroom encounter clearly revealed an unbalanced, politicized and historically inaccurate view of American History being taught."

Huppenthal said the class he observed advocated ethnic solidarity rather than treating the students as individuals, something that is prohibited by the new law.

House Bill 2281, which was signed into law (A.R.S. 15-112) by Gov. Jan Brewer in May, allows the superintendent to unilaterally decide if a district is violating the law and withhold up to 10 percent of its state funding, nearly $15 million in TUSD's case.

The district has 60 days to either scrap the program or file an appeal. At this point, it plans to appeal.

While Huppenthal is supporting Horne's decision in general, he said that he has "had the opportunity to review all the facts and evidence he [Horne] has compiled in this matter and, therefore, will not prematurely comment on specifics."