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Jul 18, 4:57 PM EDT

Ex-schools chief: Arizona program was taught by radicals


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PHOENIX (AP) -- Former Arizona schools chief Tom Horne spent Tuesday morning defending his yearslong battle against a popular Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson that was shuttered when the state Legislature passed a law targeting ethnic studies.

Horne - who was the superintendent of public schools when the bill he drafted passed and who later defended the 2010 law as the state's attorney general - said he was troubled by the program and was in general targeting all ethnic studies programs, not just the one for Mexican Americans.

Plaintiffs' attorney Jim Quinn questioned Horne all morning. The questioning is expected to continue the rest of the day in the trial that will determine whether the law was enacted with discriminatory intent.

The courts have upheld most parts of the law that prohibits courses if they promote resentment toward a race or a class of people, are designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of peoples as individuals.

Horne said the program was led by radical teachers who taught students to be rude and disruptive. He said the battle against the program began in part when Horne and an aide visited a Tucson high school to rebut prior statements made by guest speaker Dolores Huerta, a well-known national labor and civil rights activist, that Republicans "hate Latinos."

Some students taped their mouths and turned their back on Horne's aide, later walking out of the event with their fists in the air, "which is a pretty extremist thing to do," Horne said.

Horne was questioned about how he could come to conclusions about the program if he never visited a classroom. "I didn't want them to put on a show for me and then make it seem innocuous," Horne said.

The Tucson program began in 1998 and focused on Mexican-American history, literature and art in an effort to keep Mexican-American students in school and engaged. The Tucson Unified School District board dismantled the program in January 2012, a month after the law took effect, to keep from losing state funding. Program advocates say students who participated in the program outperformed their peers in grades and standardized tests.

But the program's undoing was a long time in the making.

In 2010, the same year Arizona passed its landmark immigration law known as SB1070, legislators approved the ethnic studies law. It took effect at the end of 2011.

Students launched protests and eventually filed a lawsuit saying the law was overly broad and infringed on their First Amendment rights. The judge in Tucson is now considering whether the law was enacted with discriminatory intent.

Arizona denies that the law was enacted with racial discrimination.

"With respect to TUSD's MAS program, the evidence shows that concerns existed that the program was based on a divisive, separatist, politicized pedagogy that taught students to see themselves as exemplars of an oppressed ethnicity rather than as individuals with the opportunity to control their own destinies and achieve their own goals," state attorneys wrote in court filings.

By 2015 the Tucson Unified School District said it was expanding the teaching of a "culturally relevant" curriculum developed to follow a decades-old racial desegregation lawsuit..

The culturally relevant courses are now taught at all of the district's high schools, Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said Monday. Trujillo says the district worked with the Arizona Department of Education to ensure the courses don't violate the state law. He said the courses are "very scripted" and include offerings like American history from an African-American perspective.

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