Arizona schools chief says Tucson program violates law

TUCSON Wed Jun 15, 2011 8:37pm EDT

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TUCSON (Reuters) - Arizona's superintendent of schools said on Wednesday a controversial ethnic studies program in Tucson public schools violates new state law and he threatened to cut off $15 million in funds for the district.

Schools chief John Huppenthal gave the Tucson Unified School District 60 days to prove that it had followed the law -- which forbids promoting resentment of an ethnic group or advocating ethnic solidarity, or programs designed primarily for students of one ethnicity.

"The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board failed to comply not only to state statutes, but with its own adopted policies on curriculum development and its text and materials approval process," Huppenthal said in a written release.

The school board created the ethnic studies program 13 years ago during a 30-year federal desegregation order issued after minority students and staff claimed racial discrimination.

A judge lifted federal oversight in 2008.

The Mexican-American Studies Program, which offers alternatives to traditional history, literature, social justice and art classes, ensures those students will not be excluded again, said Deyanira Nevarez, director of Save Ethnic Studies, a group that has organized supporters of the program.

School board President Mark Stegeman had no comment Wednesday. The board will schedule a meeting in coming days to discuss the legal matter in closed session, he said.

Controversy erupted over the program in January, when the law went into effect.

On his last day in office, Tom Horne, the outgoing state superintendent who is now the state attorney general, deemed the program illegal. Huppenthal then hired a consultant to determine its legality.

Emotions have run hot over the issue.

In May, several students took over the board seats at a meeting and refused to leave until after midnight. There were no arrests.

A week later, at another board meeting, more than 100 police were in attendance, either inside or outside, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton)

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