Tucson's rejected ethnic studies praised by audit

PHOENIX (AP) — An outside audit praised an ethnic studies program in Arizona as promoting peace and racial harmony, a dramatically different conclusion than that of the state's schools chief, who says the course promotes resentment toward white people.

The report by the Cambium Learning Group said it found no evidence that the Tucson Unified School District's program promotes racial tension.

"The auditors observed the opposite, as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people," according to the 120-page report. "Teachers are teaching Cesar Chavez alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi, all as peaceful protesters who sacrificed for people and ideas they believed in."

The assessment comes days after Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal determined the program to be in violation of a new state law that says classes cannot advocate ethnic solidarity or promote ethnic resentment. In an announcement Wednesday in which he cited the audit, Huppenthal gave the district two months to make changes or face losing 10 percent of its annual state funding — or about $15 million.

Huppenthal told The Associated Press on Friday that he thinks the classrooms were warned that the auditors would be there and that the findings weren't an accurate depiction of the program.

"We reject totally what they observed," Huppenthal told The Associated Press. "We disagree that it was in fact an audit. We disagree with those findings being representative of ethnic studies classes."

Supporters of the ethnic studies program have called challenges to the course attacks on Arizona's Hispanic population.

Critics say the program demonizes white people as oppressors of Hispanics.

The battle over the Tucson program escalated as Arizona lawmakers passed the nation's most stringent — and controversial — anti-illegal immigrant legislation.

Following a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal judge blocked the law's key provisions — including requirements that police use "reasonable suspicion" as grounds to question a person's immigration status. Arizona has sued the federal government over the ruling and the fight seems headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Critics say the law unfairly targets Hispanics. Supporters say the legislation is necessary to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing into the country along Arizona's border.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed both the ethnic studies law and the immigration law in a two-month period last spring. Both were heavily supported by Republicans including Tom Horne, who was the schools superintendent at the time and had been pushing the ethnic studies measure for years.

Huppenthal, also a Republican, voted in favor of the ethnic studies law as a state senator and ordered the audit when he took over as schools superintendent.

The audit said that "all ethnicities are welcomed into the program" and that "all evidence points to peace as the essence for program teachings."

"Resentment does not exist in the context of these courses," auditors wrote.

However, Huppenthal said Wednesday that the reviewed course materials violate the new law because they "present only one perspective of historical events — that of the Latino people being persecuted, oppressed and subjugated by the 'hegemony' — otherwise known in this material as white America."

Spokesman Andrew LeFevre said Friday that the auditors gathered information during "limited classroom observations and onsite interviews," rather than from a profusion of text materials collected by a separate, intensive investigation by the education department that spanned several months.

LeFevre said that Huppenthal "used the totality of the information and facts gathered during the monthslong investigation to make his final determination."

Among the program materials that Huppenthal said were in violation of the 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."

Auditors reported that the materials they looked at during their visits did not violate the law, but said that the district's governing board should start looking at supplemental materials for the program and decide whether to approve them. The board currently only approves "basic text materials," the audit said.

The auditors said they visited every school in the district with ethnic studies classes and sat in on them in pairs. They said all visits were unannounced, and that "there was no resistance whatsoever to the audit team."

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone said Friday that the district board already is working on providing more oversight for course materials.

He and the board met Friday and decided to request a judicial hearing on the matter to get clarification about why Huppenthal says the program is illegal and what the district needs to do to fix the situation.

He said Huppenthal's findings "defy the audit he himself commissioned."

"At this point we don't believe we're out of compliance, and the burden of proof is on the state superintendent," he said. "You're looking at a fairly significant audit that took place over the course of three weeks. I think you have to take that to heart."

Pedicone has said that the district can't afford to take a $15 million financial hit. "It'd be devastating."

Sixty percent of the district's 13,000 students are Hispanic, and 647 students in all were in the ethnic studies program last school year. About 90 percent of the program's students are Hispanic.

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