Delegation Opposing Arizona Laws Brings Fight to Valley
the San Fernando Valley Sun
September 30, 2010
Coalition of Educators will File Lawsuit Against Bill that Bans Ethnic Studies
SB 1070, the law that criminalized undocumented immigrants in Arizona, was not the only controversial bill approved in the neighboring state this year.
The legislature also passed HB 2281, a measure that bans ethnic studies in Arizona K-12 schools, including the Mexican American Studies program that has been in effect in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) since 2006.
Banning these courses essentially does away with the Chicano Studies curricula proponents say has been highly effective in keeping kids in school and proud of their heritage.
And just like SB 1070, where some of it was repealed after lawsuits were filed by the federal government and civil rights organizations, HB 2281 will not go on without a fight. Save Ethnic Studies, a group of educators, students and community members who support educational programs, policies, and legislation that cultivate and nourish cultural awareness and diversity, is gearing to file a federal lawsuit against the law in October.
Leading the courtroom challenge will be lawyer Richard Martinez who, along with several TUSD educators, came to California State University Northridge (CSUN) to gather support for their effort.
"With HB 2281, they are trying to take away from us the only program that has shown to have unprecedented success with reaching Latino students," said Martinez, a civil rights attorney. "They want to gut us. They want to take away our souls, our heart, our history and our culture. They say we have no right to teach that in our classrooms, that we're un- American."
Last Friday, the Arizona delegation held a presentation against HB 2281 with CSUN students and a working session with several members of the Northridge Chicano Studies Department. Prof. Rudy Acuña, Ph.D, has been railing against the bill in editorials since it was approved in May. Acuña was in Arizona earlier this year to speak against it.
Acuña was also one of the organizers of the recently held local fundraiser for Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, a vocal opponent of SB 1070 who has received death threats and had a window of his field office shot out.
"The fight against 2281, which affects us an awful lot, is not getting much play," said Acuña, who added that's in part due to the fact that "it's very difficult to sell ethnic studies" to the general public and even to academia.
Acuña asked for CSUN members to help in the effort and said "at CSUN, this is an Arizona semester," in reference to the work being done on campus to assist Arizona in their fight.
"We can't do it alone," Martinez said. "In this fight we have one forum open to us, one door always opened, the federal court to prove this bill is unconstitutional. It is one law intended for one group, a law intended to eliminate one program."
Tom Horne, former Arizona School Superintendent, had been trying to do away with the Mexican American studies program for two years, alleging the program's teachings are seditious in nature and anti- American. He wrote the measure on his own and pushed for it in the legislature.
"Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds," Horne said in a press release after the passage of the bill. "This is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite, and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism."
HB 2281, which goes into effect next January, applies to all public and charter schools, from kindergarten through high school, and bans classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.
Horne has cited Acuña's book "Occupied America: a History of Chicanos," a textbook used in the program, as one of the prime examples of the "un-American" nature of these classes.
Before the new school year began, Horne and Deputy Superintendent Margaret Dugan called on the TUSD to videotape ethnic studies classes "to provide important evidence as to whether those courses are in violation of H.B. 2281." Any school district found to be not in compliance will have state aid withheld.
"Though we are pleased the legislation passed, it is very unfortunate that it will not take effect until January of 2011. Margaret Dugan and I are asking the Tucson district to videotape the classes to provide evidence for an expected appeal to an administrative law judge, as to whether these courses violate H.B. 2281," Horne noted in a press release.
He also contends students would still be exposed to other cultures and traditions as part of the regular social studies classes and within the state standards.
Since 2006, TUSD has included Mexican American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school. Sean Arce, a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against HB 2281 and Director of Mexican American Studies for TUSD, said the courses are open to all students and they draw a mixed crowd.
Arce said the effects of the bill are already apparent, because he's already having problems ordering Acuña's and other books with Latino themes considered "controversial."
"They're putting roadblocks from us at every turn," he said. "We're constantly trying to justify what we're teaching."
He added that despite support for ethnic studies classes in the TUSD, the District finds itself in a difficult position because it if went against the bill, it would face sanctions of between $3 million and $4 million per month (about 10 percent of its budget).
Arce warned the measure could potentially lead to higher dropout rates among Latinos in the TUSD (currently about 40 percent).
"This law will definitely hurt the education progress we've made," he said, noting that the Mexican American studies program has helped keep Latino students engaged in school.
"(With Ethnic Studies) students see themselves as part of schooling," he said.
The bill would also mean layoffs for dozens of ethnic studies program teachers.
"We would lose our jobs," said Lorenzo Lopez, a TUSD high school teacher who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Both Arce and Lopez say the passage of the bill has created a lot of uneasiness, anger, uncertainty and activism among Latino students, who have organized marches, sit-ins and rallies to denounce HB 2281.
"Even middle school students got arrested for protesting and in sit-ins," Arce said.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to stop this preemptively so none of this comes to effect," he added.
Martinez, the lawyer putting together the lawsuit, echoes that wish. Martinez is working pro-bono on the case, but he and the plaintiffs are visiting schools in Los Angeles and in New Mexico gathering expertise and monetary help for what they expect to be a difficult federal case.
He estimated defending the ethnic studies programs would cost between $750,000 and $1 million.
"We need your help," Martinez said to the Chicano Studies members during the working session. "We got to stand up and fight. We need your assistance morally, spiritually, financially and your intellectualism."
Martinez also warned that, if not stopped in Arizona, this type of bill could spread to other states.
"Don't be so arrogant as to believe this can't happen to you," he admonished. Arce noted the importance of fundraising and the support from Latinos in other states as they fight HB 2281 in the courts.
"The State and Gov. (Jan) Brewer, they're getting millions of dollars in contributions to defend these laws and SB 1070," Arce said. "It's going to be really costly. The lawyer is doing this pro-bono, but he's trying to put together the best educational experts to build a really strong case."
The Arizona delegation has more visits planned for the Los Angeles area. This week, they'll be at UCLA and California State University Los Angeles. They're also raising funds through their website www.saveethnicstudies.org.
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