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Tucson’s Ousted Mexican-American Studies Director Speaks: The Fight’s Not Over

Posted: Apr 28, 2012

 Sean Arce may not have a job anymore, but he’s still going to defend the program he used to direct. Arce, the former director of Tucson Unified School District’s now-suspended Mexican American Studies program, was fired earlier this month in the latest crackdown on the program in what has become a years-long saga over the fate of the popular program.

Two years ago, and mere weeks after signing Arizona’s SB 1070 into law, Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2281, which barred Arizona public schools from teaching courses which advocated “the overthrow” of the United States government; encouraged “ethnic solidarity” or “promote resentment” toward any other ethnic group. The law was directly specifically at Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program, state schools chief Tom Horne admitted. School districts found violating the law could have lost 10 percent of their state funding as punishment. At the outset the Tucson Unified School District tried to defend the program by insisting it was fully compliant with the law. That strategy didn’t pan out; in January the program was suspended after the state ruled that MAS did indeed violate HB 2281.

Meanwhile, educators have gone straight to the source, trying to challenge the basic constitutionality of HB 2281. Their case is working its way through the courts, but on the ground, the fight continues. It turns out that Tucson’s educators and Latino youth are an irrepressible bunch; they’ve shut down school board meetings, organized weekend ethnic studies courses outside the district; and fought for the return of their program. Colorlines caught up with Arce to discuss the state of education in Arizona, and to separate myth from reality when it comes to ethnic studies. Read Q&A here

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