Tucson Unified School District's new culturally relevant literature courses may be in violation of state law.
The Arizona Department of Education has notified the district that it is disturbed by what it calls the TUSD Governing Board's premature approval of culturally relevant literature courses, citing concerns the courses do not thoroughly cover the state-required standards.
The board approved the literature courses 3-2 Tuesday despite objections raised last month by the Education Department.
The state agency indicated it does not know whether TUSD satisfactorily addressed those concerns before the curriculum was adopted because the district never provided any response to the original issues raised.
"During ADE's review of the district's initial proposal, we found the curriculum lacked alignment to Arizona's academic standards and was not in compliance with (the law)," said department spokeswoman Kristen Landry. "We are disturbed the board took premature action."
The district denies any wrongdoing, saying it was required to submit only the government and history curriculum for review. The literature curriculum was submitted "in a good faith effort" to seek feedback from the state, said spokeswoman Cara Rene.
"It is not premature," Rene said of the approval. "TUSD is under a federal court order and mandated timeline to create classes with this specialized curriculum and we are moving forward to meet that order."
TUSD was notified in early June of the Arizona Department of Education's findings on not only the literature courses, but for culturally relevant history and government courses as well. The later two curriculums are slated to go before the Governing Board for approval on July 23. While TUSD revised the history and government curriculums and resubmitted them to the Department of Education, it did not do the same for the literature classes, which will be rolled out for high school juniors and seniors in the fall.
The state Department of Education is reviewing the history and government curricula, so it could not say on Thursday whether TUSD responded adequately to the concerns raised. It expects to complete the government review within the next few days but does not anticipate wrapping up the history review until July 24 - after the TUSD board is scheduled to vote on it.
Rene said the district incorporated the state's recommendations when the curriculum was presented to the Governing Board. She said on Thursday that the state did not indicate there were any compliance issues with the law.
TUSD maintains that the courses are rigorous and said content adjustments will be made if necessary.
The law in question is the same one that resulted in the threat of the loss of millions in funding unless TUSD eliminated the now-defunct Mexican American Studies classes. The law prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals, and are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
The state Department of Education does not approve curricula for school districts but was approached by TUSD to review them as part of an agreement following the elimination of Mexican American Studies.
Because the Arizona Department of Education determines whether school districts are in compliance with the law, its assessment of the curriculum is an indication of whether TUSD will once again come under fire.
Department of Education feedback provided in June mostly focused on how the curriculum aligned with standards, stating: "in general, we find the courses are significantly lacking in a clearly defined alignment. … Beyond sample lessons and examples, what is the core content of each course?"
Regarding the legality of the classes, there are repeated references to a "lack of evidence that students have access to multiple viewpoints that provide a balanced approach to the course of study."
The Department of Education emphasized the need to create a "positive and inclusive climate that encourages respect and understanding among students from diverse backgrounds."
For now, the classes are scheduled at three pilot schools - Tucson, Pueblo and Cholla high schools. They will be taught from the African-American and Mexican-American perspectives, and will count for core English credit. Students still will have the option of taking a traditional literature class.
Teachers will be trained this summer on the new curriculum and on instructional strategies appropriate for culturally relevant teaching.
The Arizona Department of Education expressed similar concerns about the history and government classes, which will also be taught from the African-American and Mexican-American perspectives. Traditional classes will be an option for those courses as well.
TUSD is required to offer the culturally relevant classes as part of a decades-old desegregation case.
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea