Will Tucson School Board Stand Up and Defend Ethnic Studies?

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CommonDreams.org

Will Tucson School Board Stand Up and Defend Ethnic Studies?

Instead of once again shining the spotlight on the disgraceful antics of extremist Tea Party hacks in Arizona's withering state government, the national media should be asking why the Tucson Unified School District board and community leaders haven't followed their Phoenix neighbors and summoned the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to investigate Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal for racial profiling, hate crimes, fraud and even extortion.

Besieged by an unconstitutional state campaign to shut down one of its district's most acclaimed and beloved programs, the Tucson Unified School Board has that opportunity when it reconvenes on Tuesday, January 10th.

First, meet the Sheriff Arpaio of Ethnic Studies.

As the disgraced and notoriously incompetent and intellectually challenged Huppenthal stumbled his way at another press conference last Friday to finally make good on his outrageously racist 2010 election campaign promise to "stop la raza" and officially announce his decision to find Tucson's acclaimed Mexican American Studies program in violation of the state's ban on Ethnic Studies, the truth is that his Tea Party junta's witch hunt has essentially come to an end.

Having played his last card, it's game over for Huppenthal and his extremist state officials. Whether or not the Tucson school district board members challenge the state ruling in court or cower to the extortion and unprecedented demands to sack the program and escape a multimillion dollar penalty, all eyes will now shift to the domain of the federal courts. (As if to apply one final shot of retribution, the Superintendent also announced Friday that he would apply the withholding of 10 percent of Tucson's largest school district's funding retroactively--dating back to last August.)

Far more important than Huppenthal's pitiful justification to ban one of the most successful and nationally acclaimed programs--in a state that rivals Mississippi for educational failure and entrenched poverty--is whether or not federal court Justice A. Wallace Tashima will issue a preliminary injunction to halt Arizona's slide into historical oblivion.

But the party's not over for Huppenthal, who blatantly misrepresented a state commissioned audit on the Mexican American Studies to such a degree that he may have committed a felony last summer.

It's time to stand up and deliver, Tucson Unified School Board.

Last month, when the DOJ finally revealed its long-awaited investigation findings on the machinations of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the charges of racial profiling and civil rights abuses were not lost on Tucson's deeply rooted Mexican American, O'odham, and broader community.

Consider this: Just as the DOJ charged Arpaio with "chronic culture of disregard for basic legal and constitutional obligations" and a "widespread pattern or practice of...activities that discriminate against Latinos," the same argument could be made for Attorney General Tom Horne and Superintendent Huppenthal, who have pathologically singled out and viciously attacked and misrepresented ONE single Mexican American Studies program in the entire state.

The question begs: The Tucson Unified School Board will have a month to either challenge the rule in court or surrender, but will it have the decency--along with community leaders--to stand up to Huppenthal's racist attacks and demand a modicum of justice and accountability for reckless harm against the 60 percent of their children from Mexican American homes and the huge majority of the city in favor of the acclaimed and undeniably successful Ethnic Studies program?

Consider this: How has Attorney General Tom Horne been allowed to openly misrepresent the program as segregating students and invoke violent imagery and call for Tucson's children and educators to be " destroyed"?

As I wrote last summer in a review of the film Precious Knowledge:

Whether or not one agrees with Horne, who has openly lied in the past about his history of bankruptcy and has the unique distinction of being banned forever from the Securities and Exchanges Commission after he "willfully aided and abetted" securities law violations, no viewer will doubt that Horne's spiraling obsession with the Ethnic Studies Program almost borders on the maniacal and risks statements that are outright falsehoods.

Two examples, among many, leap out at the viewer: While first denying at a Senate hearing he has ever been invited to a MAS classroom, Horne backsteps when challenged by a legislator and then admits that he has been invited. Horne's accusation that the Mexican American Studies Program is "dividing students by ethnicity" and preaching ethnic resentment is soundly rebuked by the sheer number of non-Latino students who take the classes, testify at various hearings and protest and eloquently describe to visiting lawmakers and TV reporters about their experience. The blond-haired MAS student Erin Cain-Hodge calmly tells one news report at a Tucson protest on the need to "make a stand" against "this racist bill." At a charged Senate hearing, African-American student Mariah Harvey poignantly explains how the classes engender a sense of "understanding and forgiveness."

After being presented with evidence of the MAS program's dramatically increased graduation rates, Horne responds that the program is "not doing any thing right," and "should be abolished." When students exercise their First Amendment rights to protest outside a Horne press conference, he quickly refers to the "rudeness they teach to their kids."

Huppenthal should have been held in contempt months ago, if only for his shocking ignorance and ineptness.

After a bizarre gaffe in Tucson this fall, the education chief was forced to apologize for his characterization of "known homosexuals"--but not "known" Mexican American children and educators, who he referred to as Hitler youth.

Notwithstanding that Arizona's education chief was educated at a private parochial Catholic school, and has refused to send his children to regular public schools, and once lectured university scholars that his own educational principles for children were based on corporate management schemes of the Fortune 500, Huppenthal has served frequently as a featured speaker at extremist Tea Party rallies. In a line, the Indiana-native views Mexicans and Mexican Americans as foreigners: As a state senator he once took to the Senate floor and declared "parts of our neighborhoods" have been "nuclear-bombed by the effects of illegal immigration."

Over the past year, Huppenthal has disregarded his own commissioned audit, testimonies by national and regional educational experts, the real life stories of thousands of students, parents and teachers, in the pursuit of one obsession: To stop la raza.

To stop Mexicans.

Last month in Phoenix, the DOJ declared the Sheriff Arpaio had conducted "the most egregious racial profiling in the United States."

It's time they meet John Huppenthal and Tom Horne and update their findings.

Let's hope the Tucson school board makes that happen.

Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books). Follow him on twitter: @JeffRBiggers

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