The Arizona state schools chief said Wednesday that an ethnic studies program in Tucson is violating a new state law by advocating ethnic solidarity among Latinos and promoting resentment toward white people.
Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal's decision gives the Tucson Unified School District two months to comply with the law or face losing 10 percent of its annual state funding — or about $15 million.
"This is not rocket science. This is fundamental," Huppenthal said at a news conference at his Phoenix office. "They have gotten themselves in a very tight corner. The ball is back in their court."
Huppenthal ordered a review of the program when he took office in January after his predecessor, Tom Horne, said that the Mexican-American Studies program violated state law and that Huppenthal would have to decide whether to withhold funding.
Supporters of the program have criticized challenges as an attack against Arizona's Hispanic population.
Huppenthal voted for the new law — which says classes cannot advocate ethnic solidarity or promote ethnic resentment — when he was a state senator. Gov. Jan Brewer signed it in May 2010 and it went into effect Dec. 31.
The battle over the ethnic studies program escalated shortly after Arizona's heavily-scrutinized immigration law, known as SB1070, was passed in April 2010.
That law has generated protests, boycotts and legal challenges — with much of that opposition along racial and ethnic lines. A federal judge has put key provisions on hold.
For his part, Horne took office as Arizona's Attorney General in January and in that capacity has formally joined the state's defense of the immigration law.
And the fight seems headed for the Supreme Court.
Among the ethnic studies program materials that Huppenthal said were in violation of the other state law included passages such as:
"We will now see the real forces behind this so-called 'manifest destiny.' We will see how half of Mexico was ripped off by trickery and violence," according to a quote from a source called "American History from a Chicana/o Perspective," provided by the department.
"In the process of being colonized, we were robbed of land and other resources," according to the quote. "We were murdered and lynched."
Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone said after Wednesday's announcement that he and the district's board members will meet Friday to discuss the department's findings and determine their course of action.
Among their choices is appealing the department's decision.
"I think there's a split opinion on the board about which way they may want to go with this, so I don't know which way the board will ultimately rule," he said.
Pedicone said he wants to hear from the community about what they think of the program and what they want the board to do. He said some people want the program axed while others feel passionately about keeping it.
"It really represents a flashpoint for Latino citizens who feel this is an attack on their heritage by the state, whether they're right or wrong," he said. "My opinion is we've got to be sensitive to that, and I believe very strongly that we should not do things the law prohibits ... There's a lot of work to be done."
Either way, he said the district can't possibly lose 10 percent of its funding. "It'd be devastating," he said.
He said out of 13,000 students, 647 were in the ethnic studies program last school year.
A group of 10 protesters staked out the news conference at the education department Wednesday holding signs that read, "We want to learn our Mexican-American history."
One chanted in a bullhorn: "We will not comply with racism."