Federal judge ends state’s ethnic studies ban in public schools

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A U.S. judge has permanently blocked an ethnic studies ban in Arizona public schools on the basis that he found it to be racially motivated.

U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima issued a final judgment Wednesday that prohibits Arizona education officials from enforcing a 2010 law that placed limits on what kinds of instruction may be offered in Arizona. It banned course work that promotes “resentment toward a race or class of people,” that is “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or that advocates “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

The case went through a seven-year court battle, which brought up allegations of racial discrimination by a state that passed a landmark crackdown on immigration the same year. Tashima maintained that racism and political gain were behind the ban’s creation in a previous ruling, and he reiterated those findings in this week’s decision.

Because the law “was enacted and enforced, not for a legitimate educational purpose, but for an invidious discriminatory racial purpose, and a politically partisan purpose … (the law) cannot be enforced,” he wrote.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has denied the racial discrimination allegations and may appeal the ruling. They have until Jan. 26 to do so.

“We will consult with the superintendent and see how she would like to proceed,” spokesman Ryan Anderson said. “Additionally, we have an obligation to evaluate the likelihood of success on appeal for the individual findings.”

The law, which was passed after the Tucson Unified School District began offering classes in 1998 focused on Mexican-American history, literature and art, banned courses appearing to promote resentment toward a race or class of people or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating people as individuals.

Steven Reiss, an attorney who represented the Tucson students who sued over the law, praised the ruling.

“That should make it clear to everyone in the state: This law is not only invalid and cannot be enforced, it makes it clear that the Tucson Unified School District is absolutely free to readopt the Mexican-American studies program,” Reiss said.

The Tucson school district stopped offering the classes in 2012 to avoid the threat of losing 10 percent of their state funding.

Democratic Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales of Tucson said in a statement, “Attacking the Mexican-American studies program sends the wrong message to Arizona’s students and denies the state’s rich and diverse history.”

Sherman Dorn, a professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, noted, “A good social studies class will give students the opportunity to learn about a subject from a variety of perspectives.”

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