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Ethnic Studies Outlawed 

in Arizona Part II 

This page continues from Ethnic Studies Outlawed

Despite such empirical evidence of the value of this curriculum, Horne was successful in getting HB 2281 through the state legislature in May of 2010; by the end of the year, the legislation was used to force the Tucson school board to begin dismantling MAS courses (failing to do so would have meant the loss of close to $15 million in state funding).  Some schools even chose to ban certain books from the attenuated curriculum and remove them from school libraries, including works by Isabel Allende, Junot Díaz, Paolo Freire, Howard Zinn, and William Shakespeare (Morehart, 2013). Teachers and students mobilized throughout the state, filing a legal challenge to HB 2281 on constitutional grounds, and organizing protests at a series of school board meetings in Tucson (see Cabrera et al, 2011, for vivid accounts of these events during early 2011). In the most dramatic of these meetings, on April 26, students from the recently formed activist group United Non-Discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies (UNIDOS), pushed their way into the boardroom, marched up to the dais, chained themselves to each other and the board members’ seats, and began chanting “Our education is under attack – what do we do? Fight back!” (Phippen, 2015). That meeting represented a small victory for the student activists, since it forced the postponement of a crucial vote.  Eventually, however, the TUSD School Board voted 4–1 in January 2012 to discontinue the program (Carcamo, 2013).


The intricacies of legal and civil rights discourse may yet yield some small scale victories for this social movement in Arizona: March 2013 brought a federal court ruling that mostly upheld HB 2281, but acknowledged that “the portion of the law that prohibits courses designed for certain ethnic groups was unconstitutionally vague” (Carcamo, 2013). More hopeful is a ruling earlier in the same year in which “a federal court ordered TUSD . . . to implement a court-approved plan to eliminate segregation and discrimination––including offering culturally relevant courses, which may contain elements of the banned Mexican-American studies curriculum” (Morehart, 2013).  And the most recent decision by a federal appeals court in July, 2015, “upheld complaints that the ban was motivated by ‘discriminatory intent’” (Phippen, 2015) since it singled out MAS but left other ethnic studies programs intact.

One important ripple effect outside the state of Arizona is that, according to a recent report in the Atlantic Monthly, ethnic studies curricula at the high school level are now being created and enthusiastically supported in several other states. José Lara created an ethnic studies course in his Los Angeles school district that became mandatory for graduation; he then organized with educators in other state counties, eventually leading to sixteen new school districts where ethnic studies is now required or offered as an elective (Phippen, 2015). Texas author Tony Díaz and other Chicano/a activists from Houston brought some theatricality to the banned books controversy, creating the organization Librotraficante (“book smuggler”) that “organized a caravan that traveled across the Southwest to spread the word about the Arizona law and gather copies of the banned books to stock in underground libraries in Tucson” (Morehart, 2013).  Díaz’s activist group more recently brought a petition to the Texas legislature to offer Mexican American studies statewide; the state’s Board of Education responded by inviting schools to develop ethnic studies courses (Phippen, 2015).  The legal and educational consequences of this struggle will continue evolving.



website and video clips from 2011 documentary, Precious Knowledge

link to Cabrera et al (2012)

“Statement on Tucson Mexican American Studies Program” from the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association (Feb. 2012)

Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing (founded by Curtis Acosta)


“Banned in Arizona,” Need to Know, PBS

footage from April 26, 2011, UNIDOS student protests at TUSD School Board meeting

The Mending News, testimonials from Tucson students and teachers (Part 1) (Part 2)

Democracy, Now!, “Tucson School's Book Ban After Suspension of Mexican American Studies Program,” interview/debate with John Huppenthal and Richard Martinez, Jan. 18, 2012

A FEW REFERENCES (Continued from previous page)

Kunnie, J. (2010). Apartheid in Arizona? HB 2281 and Arizona’s denial of human rights of people of color.  The Black Scholar, 40(4), 16–26.


Morehart, P. (2013, May). A year in the life of LibrotraficanteAmerican Libraries Magazine, 14.


Phippen, J. W. (2015, July 19).  How one law banning ethnic studies led to its rise.  The Atlantic Monthly.


Palos, A. L.  (Director & Producer). McGinnis, E. I. (Producer). (2011).  Precious Knowledge [DVD].  United States: Dos Vatos Productions.


Romero, A. F. (2010).  At war with the state in order to save the lives of our children: The battle to save Ethnic Studies in Arizona. The Black Scholar, 40(4), 7–15.


Santa Cruz, N. (2010, May 12). Arizona bill targeting ethnic studies signed into law. Los Angeles Times.


Smith, D. (2011, June 16).  Huppenthal: TUSD’s ethnic studies violate law; audit says otherwise.  Retrieved from


Stevens, L. P. & Stovali, D. O.  (2011). Critical literacy for xenophobia: A wake-up call.  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 54(4), 295–298.


Tobar, H.  (2013, October 25). Tucson school board lifts ban on Latino studies books. Los Angeles Times.


Urrietta, Jr. L & Machado-Casas, J. (2013).  Book banning, censorship, and Ethnic Studies in urban schools: An Introduction to the special issue.  Urban Review, 45, 1–6.



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Garrett, Julia M. (2015). Ethnic Studies Outlawed in Arizona (I). In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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