Judge hears controversial ethnic studies statute

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Judge hears controversial ethnic studies statute

CREATED Mar 19, 2012

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin

TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - A controversial Ethnic Studies statute is now in the hands of a Federal judge after both sides made their cases in court Monday.  The hearing is just one of several challenges regarding the Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson Unified Schools.  The statute is the reason that program is under fire, but students and teachers are firing back, calling the statute unconstitutional.

Many of the supporters attended the motion hearing in front of Judge Wallace Tashima.  He will give a summary judgment on whether or not the law is constitutional.  Plaintiffs say the statute violates their First Amendment right to information, and remains to vague and over-broad.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne fought every argument.

"It doesn't involve the First Amendment because it's not restricting the rights of teachers or students to say whatever they want to," he said, adding that the statute merely prohibits schools from teaching racial resentment, ethnic solidarity and creating courses geared toward one ethnic group.

"It's perfectly okay to teach students about instances of historical oppression even if that leads to the unintended but natural consequence that some of them will feel resentment," he argued, "but what's not alright is to teach the course in a political, one-sided, emotionally-charged way."

Horne pointed to complaints from other teachers and students provided as evidence in the case.  They describes incidents of "cult-like" behavior from students encouraged by their instructors in class, and discrimination against other students based on ethnicity.

When asked where students could learn about their ethnic background, Horne said the home would be more appropriate.

Some students like Nicolas Dominguez argue that's not possible, and the statute stifles their education.

"This knowledge and culture was taken away from first my grandparents and going back through the ages," he said, "so we don't really have that opportunity."

Maya Arce is among the plaintiffs, though she was never enrolled in the class.

"I wanted to take the classes and that's why I'm a plaintiff," she said, "because I'm getting those opportunities taken away from me."

Horne says his goal is to see a school system which teaches about contributions from all ethnicities and teaches good American citizenship and individuality, but Karina Lopez says broader classes won't compare to a more focused class.

"That doesn't give full credit to that culture and that history, which I don't think is right."

Both the plaintiffs and defendant are optimistic about the judgment to come.  So far, there is no expected time-line for the decision.