State Administrative Law Judge Lewis D. Kowal's ruling today that Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American studies classes violate the state's anti-ethnic studies law comes at an interesting time. But hey, this is Arizona, so is there ever a good time for our state's convoluted laws?
The TUSD governing board remains without a fifth member. On Thursday, Dec. 29, the Pima County Schools' selection committee meets for a round of second interviews with TUSD governing board candidates. How the selection process goes from there depends on Superintendent Linda Arzoumanian; although her office's Chief Financial Officer Ricardo Hernandez has always made it clear to the Range that any final decision remains with his boss.
According to the TUSD website, the next governing board meeting is a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3. If the TUSD board is going to vote on whether it should or should not appeal Kowal's/Huppenthal's decision — a next step that would take the school district and the state's Department of Education to Superior Court — it could happen at that meeting.
Of course, that depends on state Superintendent John Huppenthal's final decision, which he gets to make now that Kowal has ruled. If Huppenthal decides to certify Kowal's ruling tomorrow, TUSD has five business days to decide on an appeal. That's Jan. 3.
The Range talked to TUSD board member Adelita Grijalva tonight about what could happen next. She says the timing is frustrating and it's also impossible to assume how a final vote will look like. She also made it clear she will vote to appeal.
Part of that depends on who ends up as the fifth member and if they take office by Jan. 3. If they support ethnic studies and want to appeal, Grijalva says she can't assume that means the district will begin an appeal process. In the end the board needs three votes, and Grijalva says she wonders if it will resemble past votes when she and the late Judy Burns seemed to be the only ones in support of Mexican American Studies.
The only remaining hope that could stop Huppenthal from moving forward in punishing the district by withholding up to 10 percent in state funding — that is if TUSD's governing board and its Superintendent John Pedicone want to keep the program as it is — is an injunction filed in U.S. District Court by Tucson attorney Richard Martinez.
"That's one of the things I am going to ask is if we can wait to make a decision until the Federal Court ruling, but we have no idea how long that will be," Grijalva says.
Last week, U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima questioned Martinez regarding his request for an injunction depending on Kowal's ruling and Huppenthal's final decision in order to protect the program and keep Huppenthal from withholding state funding.
Tashima asked why an injunction was needed now, rather then wait for Huppenthal's final decision. Martinez made it clear during the hearing that based on Huppenthal's past findings, and the fact that he ran his superintendent campaign on "ending la raza," it is clear he will not favor Mexican American Studies.
The federal judge has to rule on the state's motion to dismiss, argued by the state Attorney General's office and Martinez' request for an injunction, filed on behalf of 11 ethnic studies teachers and two students. Tashima stated he'd rule "as expeditiously as possible," a ruling that may not arrive fast enough — but, of course, that depends on how Tashima rules.