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Tucson Unified won't lose funds over ethnic studies courses, but monitoring will continue

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PHOENIX — The Tucson Unified School District will not lose funding over its ethnic studies courses because they don't actually violate a state ban, Arizona schools chief Diane Douglas said Tuesday.

The district risked losing $14.2 million in annual funding over a few courses that the former Arizona public schools Superintendent John Huppenthal said violated a 2010 ban on ethnic studies. Huppenthal used his last day in office in early January to issue the report, citing an introductory course on hip-hop from the African-American perspective and lyrics from the rock band Rage Against the Machine as violations.

But Douglas, his successor, said that the courses themselves didn't violate state law. Instead, it's the way they're taught that was of concern, she said.

"What we've seen is a good effort to get curriculum in place," Douglas said. "What we're still going to have is ongoing monitoring of is the implementation into the classroom, to make sure that the teachers are applying the curriculum appropriately and completely in compliance with the law."

That monitoring will last through the end of the school year.

School district Superintendent H.T. Sanchez has said the curriculum follows a 2013 federal racial desegregation order requiring culturally relevant courses. The courses are being taught at three high schools, but they will be expanded to seven next school year and eventually all 10, he said.

Sanchez said he was grateful that Douglas was willing to work with the district and avoid a loss of funding.

"We're committed to doing good work," Sanchez said. "We know that part of our challenge in the district is to fully re-establish public confidence in all the things that we do."

Sanchez said teachers are no longer using the materials that caught Huppenthal's attention.

"We're not using those materials at this point. It's not appropriate to have something for the sake of having something," Sanchez said. "It has to align with the state standards, it has to align with the curricula, and we're evaluating that as we move forward through this year and through this collaboration."

The state enacted a ban on ethnic studies in 2010.

In 2012, the Tucson Unified School District board voted to dismantle its Mexican-American studies program because state funding would be cut off if it continued. A group of students and teachers sued Arizona, saying the law was overly broad and violates the right of free speech.

A federal court has upheld the Arizona law that prohibits courses if they 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 federal court found courses 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.

But the students appealed, and a panel of judges in the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case in January. The case is pending.


Astrid Galvan reported from Tucson

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