- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The new chief of Arizona public schools says she agrees with her predecessor’s claim that the Tucson Unified School District is in violation of the state’s ethnic studies ban.

But Diane Douglas says the problem is not with the ethnic studies curriculum but with the way it is taught.

Douglas said she supports ethnic studies and said the state education department approves of the curriculum used by TUSD. But the department found that lesson plans and classroom materials don’t reflect the courses that focus on culturally-relevant subjects from the Latino and African-American perspectives.

Douglas says the district has 60 days to correct course or risk losing 10 percent in funding, or about $14.2 million annually.

School district Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said the curriculum follows a 2013 federal racial desegregation order requiring culturally relevant courses. He said the courses are being taught at three high schools, but they will be expanded to seven next school year.

The state enacted a ban on ethnic studies in 2010.

In 2012, the Tucson Unified School District board voted to dismantle the program because state funding would be cut off if it continued. A group of students and teachers sued Arizona, saying the law was overly broad and violates the right of free speech.

Former Arizona Superintendent John Huppenthal used his last hours in office last week to issue a report accusing the TUSD of violating the ethnic studies ban. He cited an introductory course on hip-hop from the African-American perspective and lyrics from the rock band Rage Against the Machine as violations.

Douglas says it is acceptable for music and other arts to be included in cultural and ethnic history courses, but that they should be taught from multiple viewpoints and should follow standards for language and violence.

Sanchez and Douglas met Wednesday in what both called a positive and productive meeting.

Douglas said it’s a misunderstanding that the Arizona Department of Education is opposed to ethnic studies.

“If any child educated in Arizona is not exposed to the suffering, trials and triumphs of all ethnic groups who have contributed to our state’s rich cultural mix, then we are failing to teach accurate history,” Douglas said.

A federal court has upheld the Arizona law that prohibits courses if they promote resentment toward a race or a class of people, are designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of peoples as individuals.

The federal court found courses only “designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group” to be unconstitutionally vague and upheld the other standards under which Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program was eliminated.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case on Monday in San Francisco.

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