A federal appeals judge has upheld most of a 2010 Arizona state law that prohibits school districts from offering coursework that endorses the overthrow of the United States government or stokes resentment toward a race or class of people.
Friday’s ruling, by A. Wallace Tashima of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, declared three of the four sections of the law constitutional, reports the Arizona Daily Independent.
The ruling stems from a case concerning a school district’s intervention to forcibly alter coursework in a controversial Mexican-American studies program in Tucson schools. The highly race-conscious program taught history, civics and literature from a pointedly Mexican-American vantage point.
The judge agreed with a prior evidentiary finding by an administrative law judge that the program contained “classes or courses designed for Latinos as a group” and promoted “racial resentment against ‘Whites.’”
The relevant sections of the contested law, commonly known among locals as House Bill 2281, forbid Arizona school districts and charter schools from:
1. Promoting the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promoting resentment toward a race or class of people.
3. Designing courses primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocating ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Tashima found the third section “unconstitutionally vague.” He said it “likely would chill the teaching of legitimate ethnic studies courses.” However, the judge concluded that the other sections pass muster under the United States Constitution.
“The Court’s rulings stem in large part from the considerable deference that federal courts owe to the State’s authority to regulate public school education,” Tashima wrote.
School officials have “a legitimate interest in limiting curricula that tend to encourage the overthrow of the United States government,” the Clinton appointee added.
The plaintiffs in the convoluted, protracted lawsuit were teachers and students at four schools in the Tucson Unified School District. They had participated in the Mexican-American studies program at issue, explains The Arizona Republic.
The plaintiffs argued that attempts to change it or suspend it violated the free speech and equal protection of Hispanic teachers and students.
Proponents also argued that the Tucson Mexican-American studies program and similar race-based programs help minority students relate to their collective pasts in non-European locales. They also pointed to data demonstrated that participating students scored better on standardized tests (presumably compared to similarly-situated students who opted not to participate).