It's been five years since TUSD's Mexican American Studies program was dismantled by order of Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. The lawsuit challenging Huppenthal's order and the statute he based it on is coming to trial in Tucson's DeConcini U.S. Courthouse, beginning the week of June 26 through June 30. It will continue the week of July 17 through July 21. The courtroom is open to the public. The trial will run from 9am to 5pm.
If the lawyers defending Mexican American Studies win in whole or in part, the statute created to make MAS illegal could be thrown out, or the statute could remain but Huppenthal's decision that MAS was in violation of the law would be voided.
TUSD's Mexican American Studies program began in 1998 and continued without a great deal of public fanfare until 2006 when labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta gave a speech to the Tucson High student body. Her speech contained three words, "Republicans hate Latinos" which set off a firestorm of outrage among Republican politicians and commentators in Arizona and around the country. Among those who picked up the anti-MAS banner was Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who turned the steps of the TUSD administration building into his home away from home, making regular visits to condemn the program. In 2010, the legislature passed HB 2281, a bill whose apparent purpose was to make MAS illegal. Horne's successor to the Superintendent position, John Huppenthal, decided MAS violated the newly created statute and had to be dismantled or $14 million a year would be withheld from TUSD's state funding. In 2012, the board voted to accept his decision, and the Mexican American Studies program ceased to exist.
A lawsuit was filed challenging the constitutionality of the statute and legality of Huppenthal's decision. U.S. Circuit Court Judge Wallace Tashima found the statute to be mostly constitutional. The lawyers working on the suit appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which decided that portions of the statute could be considered unconstitutional and the lawsuit had to be brought to trial in Judge Tashima's courtroom.
That's where we are now. Both Huppenthal and Horne will be called to testify at the trial, Huppenthal during the first part of the trial in June and Horne during the final part in July.
The trial will revolve around two issues concerning HB 2281 (now ARS 15-112) and Huppenthal's decision that TUSD's MAS program was in violation the statute. First, do they violate the equal protection clause with respect to Mexican American students? Second, do they violate the first amendment rights of those who were involved in the program? If Judge Tashima rules that the statute itself violates either of the two issues, it will be thrown out. If Tashima rules only that Huppenthal's enforcement of the law was in violation of either issue, Huppenthal's decision which led to the dismantling of MAS will be voided. With either decision, TUSD could decide to reinstate the MAS program in whole or in part, and other Arizona school districts could create similar programs.