Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Latest on the Federal Court Decision on the Banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona

Editor:  Readers will remember our article titled, "The Hypocrisy of Racism: Arizona's Movement towards State-Sanctioned Apartheid," by Augustine F. Romero, from our Fall 2011/Winter 2012 issue of the journal. Since its publication, we have tried to keep readers updated on the events in Arizona that resulted in the banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program in the schools of Tucson, Arizona.  A decision from the federal courts has just come down on March 8th.  Here is a link to the decision, Acosta v. Huppenthal .  Essentially, the law, HB 2281, was upheld except for one provision that barred courses "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."    The court upheld other provisions of the law that bar courses promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote racial or class resentment, and those that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. 

 We provide both a press release from the Save Ethnic Studies website about a possible appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a statement from the Office of the Attorney General.

Statement from Save Ethnic Studies Website:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, March 11, 2013

Contact:

Law Offices of Richard M. Martinez

(520) 327-47-97

SES Statement on Tashima Ruling: The Path Forward

Late in the afternoon of March 8, 2013 Judge Tashima issued the long anticipated ruling concerning the pending motions for summary judgment. The motions were initially submitted in 2011 and argued in March of 2012.

The plaintiffs' motion sought to invalidate HB 2281 (A.R.S. § 15-111 and 112) as unconstitutional because it is impermissibly vague and overbroad, precluding speech and infringing students' "right to receive" under the First Amendment. Although Judge Tashima recognized that the students' First Amendment rights in the classroom were at stake, and found one provision of the statute unconstitutional, A.R.S. § 15-112(a)(3) - "classes designed primarily for pupils of a particular group ethnic group", the decision left intact the remainder of the law that was used to prohibit the teaching of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District.

The Acosta/Arce case is not over. The immediate task is to decide what is the next step: seek reconsideration of the decision or file an appeal to the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision will be made within the next few days. It was always understood that this case would end up before the Ninth Circuit, and we have been preparing for this inevitable step for the past year. We have assembled a legal team that includes professors from the Seattle University Law School and the Bingham McCutchen law firm. Their contributions to the appellate process will be invaluable.

Once an appeal is filed, briefing will be submitted by both sides and a hearing will occur. This step will likely take about 18 to 24 months. The legal process is never as quick as we all hope for. This is especially true when important constitutional rights are at stake.

The effort to invalidate HB 2281 will continue. Too much is at stake. The right of every student to learn and teacher to teach the history, literature and culture of Latinos in Arizona is currently prohibited. Mexican American Studies proved to be a valuable educational program that instilled students with a positive academic identity. Much better academic skills, grades, graduation rates along with increased matriculation to college consistently occurred in every year the program was offered.

The mandate to successfully educate every student irrespective color, gender, culture or economic status is in crisis. As a nation we have failed miserably to reach this goal. We can and must do better. Ethnic studies provide a critical curricular option that must be available to every school district to consider, implement and maintain.

HB 2281 is the product of fear and a profound misunderstanding of the role of culture, language and history. These are areas of learning that do not divide us as a nation but provide a vehicle to promote understanding, respect and success. We cannot allow this fear to spread to other jurisdictions and eliminate important programs that already exist or the development of new programs.

The American dream has always included the universal hope that our children do better than we did. Irrespective of color, gender, culture or language every student must have the right to know who she is and how she fits into our complex and challenging society.

The path to obtain and maintain our civil liberties is continuous. In this lucha we all move forward. Your support is vital. Stand with us united in our common effort to be make our nation "a more perfect union".

The educators, students and community of Save Ethnic Studies.


Statement from the Office of the Attorney General:

Attorney General Tom Horne Wins Federal District Court Case Against Tucson Ethnic Studies Program


Phoenix (Monday, March 11) – Arizona’s law prohibiting courses that teach ethnic solidarity, rather than treating other students as individuals, was upheld as constitutional in a Federal District Court ruling issued Friday. The law was held to be constitutional, with one minor exception, Section (A)(3). The case was personally argued by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne in Federal District Court in Tucson.

In a statement Horne said, “This is a victory for ensuring that public education is not held captive to radical, political elements and that students treat each other as individuals - not on the basis of the race they were born into.”

Enforcement of the law resulted in cancellation of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies Program after an independent Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that the program presented material in a “biased, political, and emotionally charged manner.” The ALJ also stated: “Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity instead of treating peoples as individuals.”

The State law prohibits courses if they violate any one of four prohibitions, including “promote resentment toward a race or a class of people”, “are designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group”, or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of peoples as individuals.” The Court found only “designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group” to be unconstitutionally vague, and upheld the other standards under which Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program was eliminated.

The Statute was challenged on numerous grounds, including violation of free speech, and unconstitutional vagueness – they were denied. The Court held that the State’s legitimate concern here was to reduce racism, as set forth in the declaration of policy in the statute that states: “The legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not to be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.” The Court found that the prohibitions in the statute are reasonably related to the goal of reducing racism at the schools.

In a related action, another Federal Law Judge had issued a ruling in the Tucson desegregation case calling for the development of culturally relevant courses, an Order that has been appealed by Attorney General Horne. However, that Order also stated: “The State is free to enforce its laws as it did in 2011 when it took action against TUSD for Mexican-American Studies courses, if it believes any culturally relevant courses developed and implemented in TUSD violate state law.”

Office of the Arizona Attorney General