After nearly seven years of court fights and protests, students and teachers in Arizona scored a victory: A federal judge ruled that the state can no longer ban Mexican-American studies classes.
The battle began in 2010 – the same year SB 1070 passed – when lawmakers signed SB 2281, which banned ethnic studies classes. It was no secret that the law was designed specifically to target the Tucson Unified School District’s popular and successful Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program. When the state threatened to pull millions of dollars in funding, the district was forced to end MAS and confiscate many books used in the program.
On December 27, Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled that the Republican lawmakers who passed the bill did so “not for a legitimate educational purpose, but for an invidious discriminatory racial purpose and a politically partisan purpose – to shut down the TUSD MAS Program – in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.”
Some of the most damning evidence in the case were anonymous blog posts from former state school Superintendent John Huppenthal, who was the main architect of the ethnic studies ban, along with former Attorney General Tom Horne.
The passage and enforcement of the law against the Mexican American Studies program were motivated by anti-Mexican-American attitudes. –Judge A. Wallace Tashima
“Huppenthal’s comments describing his ‘eternal’ ‘war’ against the MAS program expose his lack of interest in the welfare of TUSD students,” wrote Tashima, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “Those comments reveal instead a fixation on winning a political battle against a school district… [T]he Court is convinced that decisions regarding the MAS program were motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears.”
“[T]he Court finds Horne and Huppenthal did not testify credibly regarding their own motivations,” the judge continued. “The passage and enforcement of the law against the MAS program were motivated by anti-Mexican-American attitudes.”
The judge’s ruling on the motivation behind the law is particularly interesting in light of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on DACA, which we reported on this week. The court ruled that the Trump administration has to disclose documents and internal conversations regarding its decision to end DACA – a decision that legal organizations allege was discriminatory. It’s possible that those documents could reveal evidence of a discriminatory motivation behind the decision to terminate DACA, just as documents revealed a racist motivation behind the ethnic studies ban.
It’s not known yet whether Tucson will start up the MAS program again. But given that students in the classes graduated at higher rates and performed better on state tests, plus gained a greater appreciation and pride in their culture, we hope MAS will return soon.