PHOENIX – An administrative law judge ruled Tuesday that a Tucson school district’s ethnic studies program violates state law, agreeing with the findings of Arizona’s public schools chief.
Judge Lewis Kowal’s ruling marked a defeat for the Tucson Unified School District, which appealed the findings issued in June by Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.
Kowal’s ruling said the district’s Mexican-American Studies program violated state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.
The judge, who found grounds to withhold 10 percent of the district’s monthly state aid until it comes into compliance, said the law permits the objective instruction about the oppression of people that may result in racial resentment or ethnic solidarity.
“However, teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political and emotionally charged manner, which is what occurred in (Mexican-American Studies) classes,” Kowal wrote.
The judge said such teaching promotes activism against white people, promotes racial resentment and advocates ethnic solidarity.
Huppenthal has 30 days to accept, reject or modify the ruling. If he accepts the judge’s decision, the district has about 30 days to appeal the ruling in Superior Court.
Messages left for a district spokeswoman Tuesday night weren’t immediately returned. In the past, district officials have said they can’t afford the financial hit that Huppenthal’s decision would bring.
The battle over the ethnic studies program escalated shortly after Arizona’s heavily scrutinized immigration enforcement law was passed in April 2010.
The program’s supporters have called challenges to the courses an attack on the state’s Hispanic population, while critics say the program demonizes white people as oppressors of Hispanics.
Huppenthal ordered a review of the program when he took office in January after his predecessor, Tom Horne, said the Mexican-American Studies program violated state law and that Huppenthal would have to decide whether to withhold funding.
Huppenthal, a Republican, had voted in favor of the ethnic studies law as a state senator before becoming the state’s schools chief.