Court Preserves Possible Use of Ethnic Studies as a Means to Remedy Ongoing Discrimination in 38-Year Old Case

Tucson, AZ – Today, a Tucson federal court barred the State of Arizona from intervening in an ongoing school desegregation case involving discrimination against Latino students by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The State sought to intervene in order to impose arbitrary restrictions on ethnic studies courses in Tucson schools based on a 2010 state law, A.R.S. 15-112, that was proposed and has been used solely to target Mexican American Studies courses. The court rejected the State's attempt to intervene, ruling that "[a]ny state law or state interest found to be contrary to or an impediment to the desegregation efforts mandated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals…must yield to the supremacy of the Federal Constitution."

This consolidated federal case, Mendoza, et al. v. Tucson Unified School District No. One, et al. (CV 74-204 TUC DCB), stems from a desegregation challenge filed on behalf of African American and Latino parents and students in 1974. The federal court in Mendoza appointed a Special Master charged with developing a plan to provide equal educational opportunities, particularly for Latino and African American students in TUSD. The Special Master, Dr. Willis Hawley, has acknowledged that he will consider the use of "culturally relevant curricula" to achieve that purpose. Rather than supporting the school district's good faith compliance with the desegregation decree, the State of Arizona has challenged the potential reinstitution of Mexican American studies courses, before the Special Master's initial proposal has even been offered.

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz, stated, "The court ruling stops the state of Arizona's singleminded and shortsighted crusade against ethnic studies and puts the focus back where it belongs -- on equal educational opportunity for all children in Tucson public schools."

Further, the court's ruling chided the State of Arizona for an "untimely and unnecessary" request to intervene, and suggested that ethnic studies courses do not per se violate A.R.S. 15-112. The ruling draws renewed attention to efforts by the State of Arizona to force Tucson Unified School District to eliminate Mexican American studies or face the loss of millions of dollars of state funding. The State's assertion that Mexican American studies violates A.R.S. 15-112 rests on isolated anecdotes and was made absent measurable evidence that ethnic studies courses as a field of study "promot[e] the overthrow of the government, resentment toward a race of class of people" or otherwise violate the state law.

As stated in the ruling, today's case remains "first, foremost, and only about desegregation in the TUSD," and not about the ethnic studies ban, its application to Tucson, or its constitutionality.

MALDEF continues to challenge the school district's violation of the civil rights of Latino students through the effort to eliminate Mexican American Studies in Arizona. On June 8, 2012, MALDEF filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, seeking an investigation into TUSD's suspension of the teaching of Mexican American studies courses. MALDEF has also requested that the Department of Education investigate the State's selective enforcement of A.R.S. 15-112, which has solely targeted Mexican American studies. MALDEF charges that both the actions of the TUSD and the State violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in any agency or program receiving federal financial assistance.

MALDEF Western Regional Counsel Nancy Ramirez, who filed the OCR charge and represents plaintiffs in the desegregation case, stated, "Latino students in the TUSD have waited far too long for the school district to achieve unitary status and for it to provide equal educational opportunities for all students. Students shouldn't be forced to suffer through further delay caused by the State's proposed intervention. Today's order affirms the supremacy of federal law in a desegregation case and upholds the ability of the school district to take appropriate measures to remedy the inequities and close the achievement gap for Latino students."

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "law firm of the Latino community," MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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