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Law banning Mexican studies in Arizona public schools ruled unconstitutional

The ruling judge said that the law did not benefit students, but instead served "a politically partisan purpose"


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Jennie Neufeld
December 28, 2017 10:55PM (UTC)

A federal judge formally, and permanently, issued a block on an Arizona law which banned ethnic studies from being taught across the state, after conservative lawmakers and educators went after a Mexican-American studies class being taught in Tucson public schools.

On Wednesday, December 27, Judge Wallace Tashima ruled that the 2010 law was unconstitutional and "not for a legitimate educational purpose, but for an invidious discriminatory racial purpose and a politically partisan purpose," according to the Los Angeles Times. In a prior ruling from August, Tashima said that the law violated students’ First Amendment "right to receive information and ideas."

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The ruling follows a seven-year court battle between Tucson students and the state of Arizona. The Tucson Unified School District began teaching a curriculum on Mexican-American history, literature and art in 1998, according to the New York Times. However, state education chief Tom Horne was among one of many officials who felt that the Mexican-American program was "hateful" and akin to "the old South." Horne was spurred to action by "Occupied America: A History of Chicanos," a specific book in the curriculum which he took offense to because, as he felt, it implied that America was occupying Mexican land in an inherently racist move.

After the ban was passed, the school district was forced to drop the curriculum in 2012 in fear that Arizona officials would withhold 10 percent of funding from the district should they not comply with the law. In response, Tucson students brought about a lawsuit against the state’s board of education, explaining that the law "was racist and targeted Mexican Americans," according to the LA Times.

While Tashima previously ruled that the ban was "motivated by racial animus," state officials maintained that the law was intended to halt courses which "promote resentment toward a race or class of people or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating people as individuals," according to the New York Times. Furthermore, advocates of the law felt ethnic studies racialize the classroom and the students.

"To teach kids that they're victims and they can’t get ahead in life because somebody's holding them down, I think it's a mistake," said John Huppenthal, a republican politician and former state senator who co-wrote the bill with Horne.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is unsure of its next move, though appealing the ruling is not entirely off the table.

"We will consult with the superintendent and see how she would like to proceed," spokesman Ryan Anderson told the New York Times. "Additionally, we have an obligation to evaluate the likelihood of success on appeal for the individual findings."

The issuance of the ban came the same year another Arizona state law ignited similar conversations on race and discrimination come into public consciousness. In 2010, legislators in that state signed SB 1070 into law, requiring police officers to "determine the immigration status of a person 'where reasonable suspicion exists' that the person is in the country illegally." The law raised questions about how the United States defines undocumented immigrants and what it means to be and look "illegal." That law is still in the process of being challenged.

It is not clear at this time if the Tucson school district will bring back the Mexican-American curriculum in the wake of the judge's ruling.


Jennie Neufeld

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