Arizona once tried to ban ethnic studies in K-12 public schools, but the law was ruled unconstitutional.
A group of Chicano Studies professors have launched a free online program called Colegio Chicano del Pueblo.
The group has enrolled over 75 students so far from states including Arizona, California, Illinois, and Michigan.
The eight-week classes are centered around Chicano politics and history, ending with each student hosting a virtual town hall in their communities.
The group is working to allow students to earn college credit through the program, with the goal of creating a 32-credit program equivalent to a minor degree.
Historically controversial curriculum
One of the professors launching the program, Ernesto Todd Mireles, teaches at Prescott College in Arizona.
He has been advocating for this kind of education in Arizona since the state Legislature in 2010 banned Mexican-Amercian studies from being taught in K-12 schools.
The law prohibited classes that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.”
It also banned classes that “promote the overthrow” of the US government, “promote resentment” toward a group of people, and “advocate ethnic solidarity” rather than treating students as individuals.
School officials accused legislators of targeting the Mexican-American studies classes, which they saw as enriching students’ education rather than creating division.
The Tucson Unified School District tried to keep the voluntary classes available but stopped them in 2012 for fear of losing state funding.
Teachers in the district asked Mireles for help, convincing him to come to the city and help with community organizing. According to Prescott College, he helped raise $25,000 to fight the ban.
The ban ended up going to the courts after families sued the state for infringement of their First and 14th Amendment rights.
In 2017, a federal judge ruled the law not only unconstitutional, but also “motivated by racial animus.”
The judge noted that students who participated in Mexican-American studies had higher grades and graduation rates than those who didn’t take the classes. He wrote in his ruling that the legislators who passed the law pursued “discriminatory ends in order to make political gains.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.