Ethnic Studies Program in Tucson

More from this show

A lawyer from the TUSD speaks about their upcoming lawsuit against State Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal and the Mexican American Ethnic Studies program.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm Jose Cardenas. State superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal commissioned an audit of Mexican-American studies programs at the Tucson unified school district to determine its legality. He said the district is in violation after a new state law governing the ethics studies curriculum in Arizona. In a moment we'll talk to an attorney representing Mexican-American studies teachers who have filed a lawsuit against former state superintendent of school instruction Tom Horne and the state. But first here's what superintendent Huppenthal had to say about the audit when he appeared on "Horizon" last week.

John Huppenthal: Immediately we began to see problems in the development of the curriculum for this class. They violated their own board policy that this would come to and be approved by the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board. They failed to provide that appropriate oversight. They violated state law in how you develop curriculum and how you get that approved. One of the key processes there is that you allow broad-based community input on this curriculum through your board deliberations. That process was completely missing. And then as a further problem, they failed to allow principles to have quality oversight for classes that were taking place right within that principal's school. So that entire curriculum development process that is a key part of the quality education just completely collapsed, and there was a dramatic failure there.

Jose Cardenas: With me tonight is Richard Martinez, attorney representing Mexican-American studies educators in a federal lawsuit. Richard, the lawsuit that you filed actually was filed several months ago. Before these latest developments. We'll come back to, that but I want to talk about what happened last week with respect to the findings by superintendent Huppenthal. First of all, in the clip that we showed, he didn't talk about what was in the curriculum; he talked about the development of the curriculum and other problems that he saw with the process by which it came to be. And as I understand it, this is one of your criticisms of his finding, which is that the statute talks about content and that's not what the superintendent focused on.

Richard Martinez: Right. The superintendent Mr. Huppenthal ignored the statute. He's issued a finding under 2281, which is the statute as it was passed, or has now codified. What he spoke about, you will not find in 112. What was at issue is did we violate on 112 the provisions that are found in A1-4. His own audit, the one he spent over $100,000 that he paid for, shows that it's a complete vindication for our program. The Mexican-American studies in Tucson unified school district does not violate state law.

Jose Cardenas: And you're talking about provisions 1-4. The first one doesn't even apply here. That's about advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Richard Martinez: Correct. Nobody is contending that.

Jose Cardenas: Tell us about the other three.

Richard Martinez: The other three essentially focused on the aspects of do we promote ethnic solidarity, do we promote resentment, or was this a curriculum designed exclusively solely for one particular racial group?

Jose Cardenas: In the findings that he issued, he begins there also by talking about more flaws in this case he's talking about the study by the auditors that you mentioned. And suggesting that they didn't have that much information to go on with respect to the curriculum. First of all, is that a legitimate criticism of the audit?

Richard Martinez: No. It's not. These were auditors that were on a site, there was a whole team brought in. They were in Tucson for weeks. They had total and complete access to all classes. They had total and complete access to all material.

Jose Cardenas: Yet he says no established curriculum was observed by the auditors. Is that true?
Richard Martinez: No. And I will say superintendent Huppenthal is being completely dishonest when he makes such an assertion.

Jose Cardenas: He also says that the head of the Mexican-American studies department refused both to be interviewed by the auditor and to provide complete curriculum materials to allow for a full evaluation of the utilized curriculum and classroom teachings.

Richard Martinez: And in both of those he's being disingenuous. He knows that the director is a plaintiff in this lawsuit. He also knows Mr. Huppenthal knows he's the defendant. He could not use his auditors to essentially interview the M. --- Otherwise he had complete access. Anything they wanted, he provided. In addition, they had the opportunity to observe every one of the plaintiffs in their classroom, no limitations were placed on that. So they had complete and full access. In addition to that, they had that opportunity to interview students, their parents, from all segments of the community as this audit talks about all state quoters had input into this. And it's probably one of the most thorough examinations of any curriculum that has ever occurred in any school district in the state of Arizona.

Jose Cardenas: The audit did, and I want to talk about those specific findings, what they had to say about the three provisions of the statute, but the auditors did have some criticisms, did they not, of the program?
Richard Martinez: They did. And I think those are legitimate criticisms. I think they were talking about items to be discussed, is there a better way to do it, but you have to understand this is a curriculum that is always in transition. What I mean by that is every year they look at how can we do it better. This is a very unique curriculum in that all of the instructors participate in the actual writing of curriculum on an annual basis. They not only teach it, they write the curriculum. They participate in a national seminar that's hosted in Tucson every summer. This will be the first summer we don't have it because of the circumstance that exists. But this is probably one of the most qualified groups of teachers you're going to find in the public high school. Or at the middle school level. And one of the most enthusiastic group of teachers you'll ever find. They're completely devoted to their students, and their success is documented by what we see every year. We have extraordinarily strong results with these students. They graduate at higher rates, they attend school more often than any other population in the school district. And they attend college at higher rates than Latinos normally do. What we found in the Tucson Unified School District, they found a curriculum that was turning the tide, and that is turning the tide. Unfortunately Latinos have done poorly in public schools, very poorly at the high school levels. We drop out too often, we graduate with poor grades. We don't attend college as we should. In this program, reverses all of those negatives trends.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about the specific findings by the superintendent. I should mention that we did invite representatives of the superintendent's office to join us here but they were unavailable. I want to talk about the findings and then the findings of the audit. First of all, the audit was commissioned by the superintendent's office.
Richard Martinez: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: At what cost?

Richard Martinez: The group spent -- they were paid somewhere between $110-170,000. I've not seen the exact bills. But we know it was a substantial amount of money. We know that they brought in a whole team of professionals. Some of them from Florida, some of them from Texas. This was a totally disinterest the group in the sense that they didn't come with an agenda. They came to carry out that which Mr. Huppenthal had commissioned, what he asked them to do. And what he is sitting with is a 120-page report that vindicates the program.

Jose Cardenas: At his press conference observers thought he implied that the audit supported his conclusions.

Richard Martinez: He did. He did. It was part of how he's been disingenuous, how he essentially lied to the state.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk specifically about the findings and the audit. The finding by superintendent Huppenthal was that the Mexican-American studies classes and teachers promote resentment towards a race or class of people. That's one of the statutory provisions. Tell us about the audit response to that.

Richard Martinez: The audit response is they found no evidence to that. What's significant is that the audit is based upon not only their complete review of the materials, but there being on site at Tucson unified school district, having complete access to administrators, they're meeting with parents, they're meeting with students, there are extensive interviews of both and they're being in the classroom. And what they say in their report is that they found no evidence to support that any of that was occurring in the classroom.

Jose Cardenas: And to be specific, and I'm looking at page 55 of the report, no observer will evidence exist that instruction within Mexican-American studies department promotes resentment towards a race or class of people, the auditors observed the opposite as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people. That's one of the contradictions you were talking about.

Richard Martinez: Absolutely.

Jose Cardenas: Talk about --

Richard Martinez: I was going to say, we do just the opposite of what we're accused of doing.

Jose Cardenas: The second charge based upon the language of the statute was that the classes are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race.

Richard Martinez: And again, the audit found that that just wasn't true. It does in two different ways. It notes that the classes are open to all students, we never held these classes to be limited in terms of who can enroll, who can participate. Who can be successful in these classes. That's been across every racial group, every gender, everyone has been a part of these classes. And the one thing that they tried to point to is the fact that the classes are attended by primarily by Latino students. That's true. But they ignore these class being taught at high schools or at schools that are predominantly Latino. For example, the middle school, Wakefield Middle School, 93% Latino. Of course you're going to have an overwhelming --

Jose Cardenas: on that particular point, I think in one of the interviews that was given on "Horizon" the point was made that the actual percentage of the student body that's Latino is like 65%, and it was 90-plus percent in the classroom.

Richard Martinez: I'm not sure which high school he was talking about, whether he was talking about Tucson High School, or -- that would you draw or detract more Latino students than you would non-Latino students to a class would not surprise me. It would be comparing that to a women's studies class. You might find more females participating or enrolling in a women's studies class than you would males. That doesn't mean it's limited or designed only or exclusively towards.

Jose Cardenas: Let's move on. I want to go back to the report and we've got a lot of ground to cover before we finish the interview. On this second charge about primarily designed for pupils of a particular ethnic race, the report states, quote -- a majority of evidence demonstrates that the Mexican-American studies department's instruction is not, and they put that in all caps, designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, as previously indicated every current course syllabus states, quote, at the core of this course is the idea that all in caps, people should not be required to give up their ethnic and cultural traditions in order to become part of mainstream American society. So that's another example what were you talking about, the report contradicting the findings.
Richard Martinez: Absolutely.

Jose Cardenas: Let's go to the third one, which had to do with advocating ethnic solidarity, and there on that charge what the report summary states is that no evidence as seen by the auditors exist to indicate that instruction within Mexican-American studies department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity rather it has been proven to treat students as individuals. Can you elaborate on that part of the audit report?

Richard Martinez: I think what we've been accused of is promoting an ethnic chauvinism. Somehow Latino students were being taught they were better than someone else, or they were somehow different and superior to. And that's just never been part of the curriculum. If anything, part of the message is always been a respect for all cultures accept for all languages, acceptance and embracement of all values. And there's a lot of core -- universal values there.

Jose Cardenas: If that's true, and if everything that the auditor said were true, how do you explain the statements that are in superintendent Huppenthal's findings that state, for example, that in talking about examples of the content that they looked at, that they reviewed materials that repeatedly reference white people as being, quotes, oppressors, end quote, and quote, oppressing, end quote, the Latino people?

Richard Martinez: What you have in superintendent Huppenthal is in huge gaps in what he fails to connect. One, he doesn't say this is material that came out of Mexican-American studies program. He hasn't demonstrated that. I think those are probably he's pointing to materials Mr. Horne knows were stolen from the school district. Number two, the report shows that that material just never makes it into the classroom. It never makes it into the curriculum; it never makes it into the instruction. It's just not part of the message. What you have here is a total disconnect, and that what Mr. Huppenthal is making essentially what would I call political charges, not substantive charges, and he certainly is not making charges that are based in reality.

Jose Cardenas: There is some indication in the report that indeed some of the materials that are used include texts from Shakespeare and other sources that most people would consider mainstream.

Richard Martinez: Absolutely. And also you have even one of the most controversial groups, according to Mr. Horne N. his findings, which was the one that first came about, about the use of the textbook "occupied America," one of the most commonly used historical texts in history classes. The report says it is the best available textbook historical textbook about Chicano history available in the United States. That's what we use.

Jose Cardenas: We do need to spend at least a minute talking about your lawsuit. Which was originally filed against Superintendent Horne. Superintendent Huppenthal's been substituted in as the defendant. Your clients include not only teachers, but also students and family members. Is that right?

Richard Martinez: That's correct. There's 11 plaintiffs who are teachers, the director of the program, so there's 10 classroom teachers, two of the teachers are parents, so their daughters are also plaintiffs,. So we have -- from the students, the parent, and the educator perspective being represented as plaintiffs.

Jose Cardenas: And we've only got about 45 seconds or so left. Summarize quickly what the claims are and tell us when you expect some kind of a decision from the court.

Richard Martinez: We have a pending motion for summary judgment. We're making a facial challenge on a vagueness theory. We're hoping the judge will rule on that this summer. We also intend to file a motion to stop this finding from taking effect because of the 10% sanction.

Jose Cardenas: What would that mean in terms of the financial impact for TUSD?

Richard Martinez: $15 million they would be denied. That is critical to the future of the school district. It's critical to its operating budget.

Jose Cardenas: And you expect a decision sometime this summer?

Richard Martinez: We do. We think the judge will address both the motion for summary judgment and our request for restraining order.

Jose Cardenas: Very quickly, we talked about this before we came on the set, the judge who's going to be hearing this has an interesting background.

Richard Martinez: He's a unique jurist, he's a first Japanese American to be appointed to the court of appeals because of the tragic circumstances in Tucson, the judge took on Judge Roll's court, so we find ourselves in the circumstance about a tragedy we've been blessed.

Jose Cardenas: and before a judge who spent time in the internment camps in Arizona during World War II.

Richard Martinez: Absolutely. He has a historical context as a young man during World War II, he and his family were interred here in Arizona as a Japanese American. After that experience he joined the Marines, grew up in Los Angeles, goes to UCLA, goes to Harvard law, so we have just an exceptional, experienced -- an exceptional person to hear this.

Jose Cardenas: On that note we'll have to end the interview. Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

Richard Martinez: Thank you.

Richard Martinez: Attorney

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: