In Arizona, Suspended Mexican American Studies Classes Could be Restored in High Schools

A pact that could bring closure to a 1974 lawsuit over racial segregation in southern Arizona's public schools, could reinstate -even expand- Mexican American studies courses eliminated from classrooms earlier this year by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) under pressure from the state government.

Groups representing black and Latino plaintiffs have reached an agreement with the TUSD that could bring closure to the decades old discrimination lawsuit, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) said Monday. The proposal aims to increase racially and ethnically integrated schools, improve magnet schools and programs to promote integration and educational quality and enhance the racial and ethnic diversity of TUSD's administrators, teachers and staff, among other goals.

If approved, however, the plan would also restore courses on Mexican American history and culture that the TUSD eliminated in January, MALDEF Western Regional Counsel Nancy Ramírez said.

"The restoration and expansion of literature and social studies courses that focus on Mexican American experiences recognizes the important role these courses play in engaging students and improving their academic achievement and graduation rates and is a critical strategy for closing the achievement gap for Latino students," she said.

On January 10, the TUSD’s governing board voted 4 to 1 to abandon its controversial Mexican American Studies courses in order to bring the district into compliance with a new law forbidding classes that advocate the overthrow of the United States, promote racial resentment or emphasize students’ ethnicity rather than their individuality.

The law, HB 2281, specifically targeted the district’s Mexican American studies program, which supporters accused of politicizing students and breeding ethnic resentment. The district removed seven book titles on Mexican American studies from its classrooms.

Arizona's Superintendent of Schools led the fight against the curricula in TUSD, the biggest school district in southern Arizona with a 60 percent Latino student population, because he said it teaches students to resent Anglos.

In an interview with Fox News Latino earlier this year, Superintendent John Huppenthal said the university system that educated public school teachers is to blame and he expressed interest in taking the curriculum ban to the university level.

“I think that’s where this toxic thing starts from, the universities,” Huppenthal said.

“To me, the pervasive problem was the lack of balance going on in these classes," he explained.

In the wake of Tucson’s suspension of its Mexican American Studies program, a web of censorship and confusion has entangled the city’s public schools. While the district has not expressly banned any books, it has implemented a series of restrictions ranging from outright prohibition of some books from classrooms, to new approval requirements for supplemental texts, and vague instructions regarding how texts may be taught.

So now Latino advocacy groups and state officials await the process for approving the plan announced Monday, while three community forums are being planned to allow parents to voice their opinions.

The comments received about the proposal will be presented before a federal court on Dec. 10; four days later a response must be given to any objections raised against it.

Sylvia Campoy, a teacher and one of the plaintiffs, said they have high hopes that this proposal will transform the TUSD into a school district "open to the community and responsible for the actions it takes."

The lawsuit was filed in May 1974 by the NAACP. Five months later, a group of Hispanics brought a similar suit.

Contains reporting by EFE and a previous Fox News Latino story written by Roque Planas.

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