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3:04 AM Sun, Oct. 21st

Judge blocks ethnic studies ban he found was racist

PHOENIX – A U.S. judge has permanently blocked an ethnic studies ban in Arizona public schools that dismantled a popular Mexican-American studies program, dealing a final blow to a law that he found to be racially motivated.

Following a seven-year court battle, U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima issued a final judgment Wednesday that prohibits Arizona education officials from enforcing the 2010 law, which stirred up additional allegations of racial discrimination by a state that passed a landmark crackdown on immigration the same year.

Tashima had previously ruled that racism and political gain were behind the ban’s creation, findings that he reiterated in this week’s decision.

Because the law “was enacted and enforced, not for a legitimate educational purpose, but for an invidious discriminatory racial purpose, and a politically partisan purpose ... (the law) cannot be enforced,” he wrote.

Attorneys for the state have denied that racial discrimination played a part in the law. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which defended education officials in the case, said it may appeal the ruling.

“We will consult with the superintendent and see how she would like to proceed,” spokesman Ryan Anderson said. “Additionally, we have an obligation to evaluate the likelihood of success on appeal for the individual findings.”

The office has until Jan. 26 to appeal. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and the state Board of Education did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment Thursday.

The law banned courses appearing to promote resentment toward a race or class of people or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating people as individuals.

Lawmakers passed it after Tucson Unified School District began offering classes in 1998 focused on Mexican-American history, literature and art.

Steven Reiss, an attorney for Tucson students who sued over the law, praised the ruling.

“That should make it clear to everyone in the state: This law is not only invalid and cannot be enforced, it makes it clear that the Tucson Unified School District is absolutely free to readopt the Mexican-American studies program,” Reiss said.

Nolan Cabrera, an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, led a study that said students who took Mexican-American studies were more likely to graduate and pass their standardized tests.

If the judge’s decision stands, it could open the door to more effective ethnic studies programs in all Arizona school districts, Cabrera said. Schools in other states such as California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington have already taken the lead in offering such options.

“You can put in Maya Angelou and take out Shakespeare and say, ‘I have an ethnic studies program,’” Cabrera said. “That’s not what we’re talking about here, not just a tokenizing version of the curriculum.”

The Tucson school district ceased the classes in 2012 to avoid the threat of losing 10 percent of their state funding.